Monday 18 December 2017

Three Irish aid staff in hiding as South Sudan fighting rages

Feargal O’Connell, Concern country director for South Sudan: 'intense firing'
Feargal O’Connell, Concern country director for South Sudan: 'intense firing'

Jane O'Faherty

Three Irish aid workers are in hiding in South Sudan following the outbreak of violence in the nation's capital over the weekend.

The three people work for Concern, which says it has "huge" worries for its 260 staff currently in the war-torn country.

Two Irish staff are outside the South Sudanese capital of Juba and are not believed to be in immediate danger.

But Concern's country director for South Sudan, Feargal O'Connell, from Dublin, said he and some of his colleagues have been forced to stay inside their Juba office since the conflict escalated on Friday.

"Not so long ago, there was a helicopter gunship overhead and we heard two explosions - the second of which shook the windows of our office," he told the Irish Independent.

"That was followed by intense small arms fire."

"That's how things have gone since Friday. There has been some very intense firing in the capital.

"We are hearing that around 10,000 people have been displaced since Friday," he continued.

Concern currently has 260 staff in South Sudan and said it is very anxious to ensure their safety as the renewed civil war intensifies after a brief truce.

Many of the charity's staff there are hiding out in their homes, their workplaces and anywhere they think is safe.

The renewed conflict in Juba has been sparked by tensions between the country's president, Salva Kiir, and vice president Riek Machar.

The two leaders fought each other in a two-year civil war that first broke out in 2013.

It is believed that 272 people have been killed since clashes between rival factions began again on Thursday.

Mr O'Connell said there were no plans to evacuate Concern's offices in Juba at present.

"We feel confident at the moment that the Concern compound is the safest place we can be in right now," he said.

"We are reviewing the situation on an almost hourly basis, but for now we will stay in the office."

Meanwhile, Junior Minister for Development Joe McHugh yesterday announced €600,000 in emergency humanitarian assistance for refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan. He made the announcement after visiting a refugee settlement on the border between South Sudan and Uganda.

Irish Independent

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