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IOM Continues Hunt for Aid Worker and Child Abducted in South Sudan

Central Equatoria Region, South Sudan
Central Equatoria Region, South Sudan

The International Organization for Migration is renewing its call for the immediate, unconditional release of a female volunteer and a four-year-old child abducted by armed men Sunday in South Sudan.

The woman and child were abducted during a gun battle that broke out between two armed groups in South Sudan's Central Equatoria Region. Three IOM humanitarian workers, two men and one woman, were killed in the crossfire.

Spokesman for the IOM, Paul Dillon, says the whereabouts of his kidnapped colleague and the child, who is the son of the slain woman, remain unknown. He adds all efforts are being made to secure their release and identify the abductors.

The place where Sunday's tragic events occurred, Isebi, in Morobo County, is on the border between South Sudan and Ebola-affected northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Dillon says the IOM staffers were working in the border area's Ebola screening point to track the spread of the deadly disease.

"We have suspended our operations in five of those border areas until we can get clarity on the security situation, and the commitment from all actors in that area that the safety and security of our staff will be safeguarded," he told VOA.

Dillon says the IOM's Ebola monitoring is critical to prevent the spread of the disease into South Sudan and elsewhere. He says the operation will resume as soon as his agency gets necessary security assurances.

Ebola was declared in the DRC's conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces on Aug. 1, 2018. The World Health Organization's latest report puts the number of cases of the deadly disease at 3,269, including 2,182 deaths. That is an overall fatality rate of 67 percent.

South Sudan is one of nine neighboring countries at high risk for an Ebola outbreak.

The IOM began operations in southern Sudan in early 2005 and has continued its assistance programs since that country's independence in July 2011. Dillon says the IOM takes its humanitarian mission seriously, but its work can only be effective if the safety of its staff is ensured.