Three people who were working with an aid group to stem the hunger crisis in Baggari in South Sudan’s Western Bahr al Ghazal State have been detained for nearly two months.
News of their detention has been kept under wraps until now. The United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office in South Sudan disclosed the arrests in a bulletin published Tuesday.
Although the UN did not say who had arrested the aid workers, Baggari is under South Sudanese government control. The UN says the humanitarian personnel are detained “in Baggari area.”
“Three individuals working for a humanitarian organization were arrested on 15 August while conducting food security and nutrition monitoring surveys, and they remain in detention in Baggari area,” says the bulletin.
Baggari was also the site of an incident in April this year when World Food Programme staff were detained, causing the temporary suspension of relief operations in the area.
David Shearer, the UN Secretary-General’s Representative in South Sudan, says that the government has been engaging in offensive military operations in this area: “(in) areas south and west of Wau… active government military operations against the SPLA in Opposition continue,” he told the UN Security Council last month.
Both Shearer and humanitarian officials are concerned about restrictions on aid groups. In another incident last month in Raja, in the same state, government security agents detained two aid workers on a mission to deliver nutrition supplies.
“On 16 September, government security agents arrested staff from two NGOs in Raja, allegedly because the vehicle that took nutrition supplies to Raja left without clearance. The two aid workers were released the following day,” says latest UN humanitarian report.
Dozens of people have reportedly died of malnutrition in areas outside Wau, while aid has been cut off until recently. The UN managed to get food to the area in September, distributing rations to an estimated 4,000 people in Mboro and 12,683 in Farajallah, southwest of Wau.
“The teams on the ground witnessed significantly high malnutrition, with high rates of severe acute malnutrition and visible signs of body stress in adults as well as cases of oedema,” the UN says.
Neither the UN nor the employer of the detained aid workers in Baggari have publicly called for their release. Relief officials have instead tried to “investigate the circumstances of the arrest and to negotiate for their release,” according to the UN bulletin published Tuesday.
This contrasts to the vocal approach taken by Swiss and Sudanese authorities following the abduction of a Swiss national in the neighboring Darfur region earlier this week. The UN humanitarian office has not provided details about the nationalities of the abducted workers in Baggari.
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