Six aid workers have been killed in an ambush in South Sudan, the UN said on Sunday, in another blow to humanitarian efforts in a country suffering from war-induced famine.
A humanitarian source told AFP the victims — three Kenyans and three South Sudanese working for a local aid group — were killed on Saturday as they travelled in a convoy from the capital Juba to the eastern town of Pibor.
Unknown assailants stopped the car, forced them out and then they were “shot and killed”, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Three years of civil war in South Sudan have seen warring parties deny access to aid, attack humanitarian workers and loot relief supplies.
It has also displaced about 2.5 million people and created a devastating humanitarian crisis, including a famine that has already affected 100,000 people and is threatening to reach up to a million.
“I am appalled and outraged by the heinous murder yesterday of six courageous humanitarians in South Sudan,” said Mr Eugene Owusu of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a statement (OCHA).
“At a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels, it is entirely unacceptable that those who are trying to help are being attacked and killed.”
According to the agency, it was the highest number of aid workers killed in a single incident since the conflict began in December 2013.
Mr David Shearer, the special representative of UN chief Antonio Guterres in South Sudan, said the killing took place in government-controlled territory and urged authorities to investigate and arrest the killers. “This cold-blooded killing is utterly reprehensible, not least because these aid workers were dedicated to alleviating the ongoing suffering of the people of South Sudan,” he said in a statement.
The ambush follows two other attacks on aid workers this month. On March 14, a health worker and a patient were killed in Yirol. And four days earlier, local staff of an international NGO were detained by armed rebels and released four days later during fighting in the northern area of Mayendit, the agency said.