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South Sudan Working to Evacuate Citizens in Syria

Buildings that were damaged during clashes between with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Free Syrian Army fighters, near the Sayeda Zainab area of Damascus, May 29, 2013.
South Sudan is working with the United Nations to ensure that South Sudanese citizens are evacuated from Syria if fighting between government forces and rebels in the Middle East country continues to intensify, officials said Friday.

"We will be working together with the UN to make sure our citizens are evacuated," Mawien Makol Arik, a spokesman for South Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

"We are in contact with them to work together with the UN to try to see whether it would be possible for the UN also to work with the embassy in Cairo to see the evacuation of our citizens if things get worse."

The number of South Sudanese nationals in Syria is estimated to be in the hundreds, although exact numbers are unavailable. Most of the expatriates went to Syria to study or to get away from the decades-long civil war in Sudan, which ended in 2005. They tend to live in the Syrian capital, Damascus, where fighting has intensified in recent months.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a peaceful protest inspired by the Arab Spring, against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. After making some concessions to the protesters, the government cracked down heavily and by July 2012, the conflict had been declared a civil war.

The death toll in Syria is at least 80,000, a quarter of whom have died since the start of this year. The United Nations estimates that some 1.5 million Syrians have fled their country to escape conflict.