UN Peacekeepers Freed in South Sudan, Contractors Still Held

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The United Nations said 18 peacekeepers detained by gunmen in South Sudan this week have been freed and it called on rebel leader Riek Machar to make every effort to secure the release of 12 UN contractors still being held.

More than 100 rebels affiliated with the SPLA-in-Opposition on Oct. 26 blocked a UN barge carrying fuel along the Nile River north of the town of Malakal, the UN mission in South Sudan said on Thursday. They detained the crew, took weapons and equipment, and looted the fuel, it said.

The UN “is extremely concerned that the national crew of the barge have not been released, the barge has not been returned to the United Nations and neither has its equipment,” it said, according to an e-mailed statement.

Rebel spokesman Dickson Gatluak earlier confirmed the insurgents had detained UN peacekeepers.

Attacks against peacekeepers and other UN staff can constitute war crimes, according to the UN.

Tensions are still running high even after Machar signed a power-sharing accord with President Salva Kiir in August meant to end an almost two-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and led to 2 million leaving their homes.

Malakal is one of the areas in and around oil-producing regions in Upper Nile and Unity states that repeatedly changed hands during the fighting.

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