Seven dead in worst attack on aid workers since South Sudan war began

UN condemns ‘heinous murder’ of humanitarian staff from Unicef partner and calls on ‘all those in a position of power’ in South Sudan to end the violence

Six aid workers and their driver have been killed in South Sudan in the worst single attack on humanitarian staff in the country’s three-year civil war.

The aid workers, from a Unicef partner, Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organisation (Gredo), which works to support children released from armed groups, were in a vehicle marked as belonging to an NGO when they were attacked on Saturday. Four of the dead were South Sudanese and three were Kenyans.

They were killed as they drove from the capital, Juba, to the town of Pibor, according to the UN. The territory, which is remote and under government control, is beset with militia and armed groups. The UN called the attack a “heinous murder of six courageous humanitarians”.

The South Sudanese government said it was too early to say who was to blame for the ambush. Akol Paul Kordit, the deputy minister of information, told Reuters in Juba: “It will be counterproductive at this stage for anybody to rush for judgment without first allowing the truth to be established.”

Rebel fighters loyal to the former vice-president, Riek Machar, said the government should be held accountable as the killings happened on its territory.

“We don’t have forces in that area. Instead, it’s the government forces and militias who control that area,” said the spokesman for the rebel SPLM-IO forces, Lam Paul Gabriel.

The UN called on “all those in a position of power” in South Sudan to stop the violence and Unicef urged the authorities to investigate and hold the perpetrators to account.

“Unicef is deeply shocked by the senseless killing of staff belonging to our partner organisation, the Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organisation,” a Unicef spokesman said in a statement on Monday.

“The humanitarian workers were travelling in a car that was clearly marked as belonging to a non-governmental organisation, including NGO number plates. We are appalled that humanitarians working to improve the lives of the vulnerable in South Sudan were so brutally targeted and call on the authorities to find and hold accountable those responsible.”

Gredo works in South Sudan on community-based reintegration programmes, including supporting children released from armed forces.

Eugene Owusu, the UN’s humanitarian chief in South Sudan, said: “These attacks against aid workers and aid assets are utterly reprehensible. They not only put the lives of aid workers at risk, they also threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on our assistance for their survival.”

At least 79 aid workers have been killed in the country since December 2013. The latest killings come after two other attacks, one fatal, on aid workers this month. A humanitarian convoy was attacked in Yirol East on 14 March, while responding to a cholera outbreak in the area, resulting in the death of a health worker and a patient. On 10 March, local staff of an international aid organisation were detained by armed rebels in Meyendit town for four days before being released.

UN leaders have condemned President Kiir and rebel leaders for squandering a peace deal in a country that has collapsed into a brutal ethnic war, involving massacres, starvation and rape.

Famine has been declared in parts of the country.

The war began as a dispute between President Kiir, who is Dinka, and former vice-president Machar, who is Nuer.


Karen McVeigh and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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