- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Armed personnel have detained South Sudanese staffers with the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, the group said Monday, while rebels dismissed as “propaganda” the government’s claim of a kidnapping.

“Local staff working for Samaritan’s Purse were recovered by our forces in Mayendit this morning after heavy fighting with enemy forces,” opposition spokesman Mabior Garang told The Associated Press. It was not immediately clear why the aid workers were being held.

The U.S.-based aid group said in a statement that no ransom had been demanded. “We have been in contact with them and they have not been harmed,” it said. The statement did not say how many staffers were detained.

South Sudan military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang claimed that rebels on Saturday abducted eight workers with Samaritan’s Purse.

The aid group’s statement said its staffers were detained in the Mayendit area of Unity state, where a famine has been declared.

South Sudan has been devastated by three years of civil war, with tens of thousands killed.

The fighting has slowed the humanitarian response to the famine, and United Nations and aid groups have been pleading for access. An estimated 100,000 people are said to be at risk.

“The situation in Mayendit, South Sudan, is a level 4 famine. We call on all the parties involved to immediately provide complete and unfettered humanitarian access in order to meet the needs of a starving population in order to save lives,” the Samaritan’s Purse statement said.

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