In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, UN peacekeepers in an armored personnel carrier lead a patrol from Bentiu towards the…
FILE - Highway attacks in South Sudan aren't a new issue. Here, U.N. peacekeepers lead a patrol from Bentiu toward Nhialdiu, part of an increase in patrols after an increase of reports of violent attacks on roads, Dec. 7, 2018.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - The South Sudan National Security Service this week arrested 12 people suspected of abducting, torturing and killing people along highways linking the capital, Juba, to other states and demanding ransom from their relatives.

Officials said security agencies apprehended the suspects Wednesday during a joint operation.

Insecurity caused by criminals along South Sudan highways has hindered the movement of goods and services to areas of need, said National Security Service spokesperson John Kumuri.

As he paraded the 12 suspects before reporters Wednesday at National Security Service headquarters in Juba, Kumuri said the suspects would be investigated and tried.

He alleged that the suspects had been "indulging in hijacking of vehicles at gunpoint; abduction of both South Sudanese and foreign nationals, primarily with the intention of extorting money in the form of ransom; torturing, maiming and to some extent killing the captives or hostages.”

Most of the activity was carried out along the Juba-Nimule Highway, Juba-Yei Road and the Juba-Terkeka Road, Kumuri said.

Kumuri would not allow reporters to question the suspects despite requests to do so.

Some of those arrested had their photos published in the Juba Monitor newspaper earlier this month. Police asked the public to provide information about those pictured and offered a reward of 2 million South Sudanese pounds to anyone providing credible information leading to their apprehension.

'Lavish ransom'

Several travelers, including seven South Sudanese, two Ugandans and one Ethiopian, were recently abducted along the Juba-Terkeka Road, said Kumuri. After conducting intensified tracing and rescue operations, he said, nine abductees were rescued and reunited with their families.

“The abductors, after having received lavish ransom demanded from the relatives of three South Sudanese, set them free, while the Ethiopian is feared executed after his ransom charges were not received on time," Kumuri said. "Up to now we don’t know this Ethiopian man, whether he was buried or if he is alive.”

In a separate incident along the Juba-Nimule Highway, criminals abducted a Somali man and demanded $60,000 be sent to them via a mobile money transfer service, said Kumuri.

He said the money was paid but the mobile network operator blocked the transfer, prompting the perpetrators to threaten to kill the unidentified Somali. The man’s relatives eventually handed over the money to the abductor’s representative, whom police later tracked down and arrested, said Kumuri.

Kumuri said NSS officers also discovered the bodies of some of the abductees.

Rampant insecurity along the highways caused fear among the public and has negatively affected the economy and people's livelihoods, according to Rajab Muhandis, executive director of the Organization for Responsive Governance.

“It gives people fear, especially if there is nothing happening about these issues and no clear actions being taken by government to address these issues," Muhandis told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. "So we would encourage the National Security Service to continue with this and other government institutions to pursue and apprehend those involved in these criminal activities.”

Government action urged

He said the recent abductions and kidnappings were directly linked to the deteriorating economy and the lack of service delivery.

“So long as people find this thing economically beneficial to them and they are desperate without jobs and poverty is looming and they see their family members suffering and they cannot provide for their family, they will always pursue livelihoods in these different ways, so there is a responsibility for the government to ensure that more is done,” Muhandis told VOA.

The solution is to fully implement the revitalized peace agreement, which would address some of the problems that have led to more insecurity, abductions and kidnappings in South Sudan, said Muhandis.