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South Sudan Rebels Release UN Contractors

The United Nations says rebels in South Sudan have released 13 U.N. contractors who were taken hostage last week while escorting a barge carrying fuel on the Nile river.

A statement from the U.N. Mission in South Sudan said it retrieved the South Sudanese contractors in a mission Sunday, and that the barge had been returned.

The U.N. called on the rebels from the SPLA-In Opposition to immediately release 55,000 liters in fuel, communications equipment and seven weapons that were also on board when they seized the barge on October 26.

The rebels at that time also detained 18 peacekeepers who were released after three days.

"While we, today, are relieved by the safe release of all U.N. personnel, the need for all parties to the conflict in South Sudan to fully respect unfettered free access and movement of U.N. personnel and assets cannot be underlined strongly enough," said U.N. Special Representative to South Sudan Ellen Loej. "A similar incident should not and hopefully will not happen again."

The U.N. has 13,000 personnel working to protect civilians and help foster a regional effort to end the conflict that erupted in 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

The conflict has displaced more than 2.2 million South Sudanese, including 700,000 who fled to neighboring countries.