- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2011

JUBA, Sudan | More than 100 orphans were trapped between fighting forces over the weekend when rebel troops battling southern Sudan’s army invaded an orphanage, officials said Monday.

None of the children or the orphanage workers were harmed, but it appears that gunfire was exchanged while the children were inside the facility, said Doris Kirchebner, a spokeswoman for SOS Children’s Villages International, the aid group that runs the children’s home in the city of Malakal.

Rebel fighters battling the south’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) entered the facility Saturday, and the fighting began while the children and staff were still inside, Ms. Kirchebner said.

“We have heard that they entered one house and occupied it and it was possible to move the children to another house,” she said. “What we know is that the whole compound was surrounded by SPLA soldiers. It was not possible for anyone to get in or get out.”

An internal U.N. report said that several armed militants took the children hostage. While mediation efforts were taking place, the children were transferred to a hotel elsewhere in Malakal. The report said that five attackers were reported killed inside the orphanage.

Children play at the SOS children's home in Malakal, southern Sudan, in 2005. More than 100 orphans were trapped between fighting forces over the weekend when rebel troops battling southern Sudan's army invaded an orphanage, officials said. (Associated Press)
Children play at the SOS children’s home in Malakal, southern Sudan, in ... more >

“It is not easy for them [the children],” Martha Choat, a minister in the Upper Nile state government, said by phone from the hotel in Malakla. “For the past two days, they were sleeping with no blankets and bedsheets.”

The takeover of the orphanage came amid a spate of fighting Saturday that saw 40 rebels and two SPLA soldiers killed, said army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer.

Since its January independence referendum, southern Sudan has seen a wave of violence that has killed hundreds.

The SPLA is carrying out military operations in three counties of Jonglei state, and the Associated Press, citing internal U.N. documents, reported last week that the SPLA has made parts of three counties in Jonglei off-limits to the U.N.

The U.N. on Monday, though, called for “unhindered” access to populations affected by fighting in Jonglei and Upper Nile states. It said that many people affected by fighting remain inaccessible.