18 April 2017

Congo-Kinshasa: South Sudanese Refugees Hold UN Staff Hostage in Congo

Former South Sudanese militants took 13 staff members hostage at a UN camp in eastern Congo, later releasing them without injury. Kinshasa has tried repeatedly to move them, but no other nation will take them in.

A number of former South Sudanese rebels living as refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo took about a dozen United Nations staff members hostage on Tuesday, demanding to be relocated.

The men have been asking for relocation from the small camp for months, but the UN has had difficulty finding a third country to take them in.

Several hours later, a mission official told reporters that the hostages had been released, saying "all staff have returned safely to their homes. No casualties have been reported." They did not elaborate on whether the refugees' demands were met, but did say that an investigation had been opened into the incident.

Millions displaced

There are about 530 former militants living at the camp near Lake Kivu, most of them loyal to South Sudan's former Vice President Riek Machar, who led the young country into civil war when he challenged President Salva Kiir in 2013.

After several years of bloody conflict and a failed bid at reconciliation, Machar now lives in exile in South Africa. But the conflict has killed tens of thousands and left some 3.5 million people displaced.

The ex-rebels were forced to hand over their weapons when they arrived at Munigi, and officials have confirmed that they were not armed. They have demanded to be taken to Uganda, Kenya or Ethiopia.

Kinshasa has also been keen to get rid of the refugees, knowing all too well the security threats it has faced during previous influxes of former militants from neighboring countries such as Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide there. However, no other nation has volunteered to take the ex-rebels in.

es/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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