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Violence Forces Aid Agencies Out of South Sudan's Unity State

The International Rescue Committee and Norwegian Refugee Council announced on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, that they are pulling out of Koch, shown here in September 2015, and Leer counties in Unity state after a sharp uptick in violence.

Two major humanitarian organizations on Wednesday announced they are suspending operations in parts of Unity state in South Sudan, citing a sharp uptick in fighting just weeks after a peace deal was signed to end the conflict in the country.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said they are pulling out of Koch and Leer counties in the central part of Unity state.

IRC Country Director for South Sudan, Donald-Paul Veilleux, said the pull-out was prompted by a sharp rise in violence in the two counties. Veilleux said the IRC has withdrawn all of its staff from the two areas.

The withdrawal of the aid agencies comes a week after the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) pulled out of Leer after its compound was looted during heavy fighting.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also suspended operations in Leer last week after its compound was raided twice in two days by armed men.

​Fighting flared up in Leer and Koch counties in late September after a period of relative calm following the signing of a deal to end nearly two years of fighting in South Sudan.

​Much of the fighting has been concentrated in Unity and Upper Nile states, where South Sudan's oil is produced.

When the World Food Program made the first delivery of humanitarian aid in four months to Koch town late last month, aid workers found some people who have been eating water lilies to stay alive.

Veilleux said the latest withdrawal of aid agencies will put the lives of people in Leer and Koch in more danger than they already are.

The IRC and NRC called on the international community to exert pressure on the two sides in South Sudan’s conflict to quickly implement the peace deal and ensure that aid agencies enjoy unfettered and safe access to people in need.