Rebels say UN aid workers ran to them for safety during fighting in Unity State, were not abducted

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South Sudan armed opposition forces under exiled leader Riek Machar said aid workers from a United Nations Agency ran to their camp for safety, following clashes with government forces in Oil-rich unity state last week.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) spokesperson Bri. William Gatjath said the charity workers have since been handed over to the agency.

Gatjeth dismissed claims by a government official that 20 aid workers had been abducted by rebels forces.

“(Juba officials) are lying. We did not abduct the aid workers but they run to our side when the fighting erupted between the two forces and we kept them safer until our commander handed them over to the UN agency in accordance to the directive of our chairman Dr. Machar,” he said from the rebel controlled Pagak area.

Government officials accused SPLA IO rebels of mounting attacks on Nhaildiu Payam near Bentiu town where the aid workers were allegedly abducted last week.

Government soldiers and rebels clashed in a state bordering Sudan, killing at least 15 people as violence raged on in the world’s youngest nation after months of failed talks and peace accords.

The army said it moved in after spotting rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar trying to steal cattle in the small village of Adaab el Bahr in Unity State on Wednesday evening.

The rebels then caught them in an ambush, which carried on for just short of an hour, said the military’s deputy spokesman Col. Santo Dominic Chol.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 – a development greeted at the time with mass celebrations inside the landlocked, oil-producing state. Aid agencies and world powers promised support.

With Files from Reuters, Sudan Tribune