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UNHCR Compound Attacked in Yei, Sudan

The U.N. refugee agency says its compound in Yei, South Sudan was attacked Wednesday night. A local guard was killed in the attack and a member of the international staff was critically wounded along with another guard.

The U.N. refugee agency calls the attack shocking. It says the UNHCR staff member, who is an Iraqi national, was shot in the abdomen and the local guard was shot in the leg. It says both men, who were critically injured, were taken to a hospital in the city of Juba. They have since been transported to a hospital in Nairobi for further treatment.

A UNHCR spokeswoman, Helene Caux, tells VOA one of the attackers was killed and an investigation into the reason for the attack is under way.

"We have no indication of their identity," she said. "One of them was killed and the other one was arrested by the local population. He is now in detention in Yei. So, as I said, we are doing an investigation to have more details on the identity of these two persons and on why they decided to penetrate, to enter the compound yesterday evening."

Yei is 30 kilometers north of the Ugandan border in southern Sudan. Caux describes the area as volatile. It is inhabited by members of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, a group of Ugandan rebels who have kidnapped thousands of Ugandan children over the years.

She says there is no indication that the LRA was involved in the attack on the compound. She says banditry is a more probable explanation. But confirmation of this will have to await the results of the investigation. Caux says the attack has forced the UNHCR to suspend a planned repatriation operation which was about to begin.

"We are in Yei because we are preparing the return of Sudanese refugees who are in Uganda, who are in the Democratic Republic of Congo," she said. "We were about to start a repatriation movement from DRC next week. You have 13,300 Sudanese refugees in DRC and the first movement was scheduled to start next week. Because of this incident, this movement is on hold right now."

Caux says the attack underscores the difficulties the UNHCR faces in South Sudan, where the agency has been working to rehabilitate hospitals, schools and other basic structures to create a good environment for thousands of refugees who want to return home.

The UNHCR says Sudan's long civil war caused 350,000 people to flee to neighboring countries. Another four million people are displaced within Sudan.