South Sudanese rebels have kidnapped eight locals working for a U.S. charity and are demanding aid deliveries as ransom, a military spokesman said on Monday, as food in the famine-hit nation looks increasingly likely to become a weapon of war.
The aid workers were taken from a village near Mayendit, about 420 miles (680 km) northeast of the capital of Juba, Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang told Reuters.
“The rebels attacked and abducted eight local staff from Samaritan’s Purse and they are being held to ransom. They have demanded that the organization takes aid to them,” he said.
No one at the charity was available for comment.
Two Indian employees of the Ministry of Petroleum were kidnapped on March 8 in northeast Maiwut state, and Minister of Petroleum Ezekiel Lol Gatluak, blaming the rebels, said: “We are working to make sure that they are unconditionally released.”
Also in the north, clashes between the army and rebels killed at least 23 people and injured 56 on Sunday, Koang said, with the insurgents attacking government positions, looting and setting fire to houses in the oil-rich Bieh state.
“They attacked our position on Sunday. Our forces fought back in self defense and managed to repulse the attackers,” he said.
A rebel spokesman was not immediately available for comment.