The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and World Food Program (WFP) called Friday for the release of two South Sudanese aid workers who were taken captive in the past week by gunmen in Malakal.
WFP said one of its South Sudanese staff members was "taken at gunpoint" from Malakal airport by a group of eight men on Thursday.
“We have not heard from our colleague for almost 24 hours, and we are extremely concerned about his well-being. WFP demands that his captors release our staff member unharmed,” Eddie Rowe, WFP’s acting country director in South Sudan, said in a statement.
The WFP worker was later identified as Mark Dieng. The head of the UNMISS National Staff Association, Bennett Kenyi, said Dieng is a field security officer.
UNMISS contractors also abducted
UNMISS said three other workers were seized on October 10, also at the airfield in Malakal. All three were South Sudanese contractors working for UNMISS and were taken “by an unidentified armed group of 15 to 20 men in uniformed and civilian clothes and driven away in a pick-up truck,” the U.N. mission’s spokesman Joe Contreras said in a statement.
Two of them were released the following day, but the third worker is still missing, UNMISS said. None of the three contractors has been publicly identified.
UNMISS said it was unclear who the abductors were.
Kenyi said some witnesses claimed the men who snatched the WFP worker on Thursday were "national intelligence security agents.” Other witnesses said they were members of a pro-government militia.
WFP said it is "working urgently to secure the safe release of its staff member." It called on the government of South Sudan and the country's security forces "to do everything within their power to see that the captured aid worker is freed quickly and uninjured."
UNMISS urged “national and state authorities, the SPLA and militia commanders on the ground, to redouble their efforts to locate and free the abducted individuals.”
Upper Nile Minister of Information Peter Hoth Kwach said Thursday the state has launched an investigation into the U.N. worker's disappearance.
"The government as well as U.N. agencies and UNMISS are working hand-in-hand to make sure that this situation is contained," Kwach said.
Aid workers targeted in Upper Nile
The disappearances are not the first time U.N. staff and aid workers have been targeted in Upper Nile state.
At least six aid workers were killed in Maban county in August, prompting the U.N. and international aid agencies Acting to pull more than 200 staff members out of Upper Nile.
A pro-government militia group that calls itself the Mabanese Defense Force was accused of those killings.
British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, who was president of the Security Council in August, said attacks on humanitarian personnel "may constitute war crimes."