UN plans urgent meeting on South Sudan; aid group expelled

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 1:10 PM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — South Sudan has expelled the country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the aid group announced Friday.

The group's secretary-general, Jan Egeland, gave no details in a statement but called the expulsion of Victor Moses "a serious setback to our humanitarian work" in the East African country where civil war erupted three years ago.

Earlier Friday, NRC spokeswoman Tuva Bognes told The Associated Press that a staffer had been detained by South Sudan's National Security Service after its officials came to the aid group's offices in the capital, Juba, on Thursday.

Bognes said the NRC had no idea why their colleague had been taken away.

South Sudan Minister of Information Michael Makuei and other South Sudanese officials could not be reached for comment.

The NRC has been in South Sudan since its independence in 2011, and it stepped up its activities after civil war broke out. Tens of thousands have been killed in the fighting, and more than one million people have fled the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently warned that there is "a very real risk of mass atrocities being committed in South Sudan, in particular following the sharp rise in hate speech and ethnic incitement."

The United Nations' top human right body said it plans to hold a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the situation in South Sudan.

The hastily arranged meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council was scheduled based on a request Friday from the United States and others, citing "the importance and the urgency of this situation."

The Geneva-based body has no power to sanctions countries but it can decide to carry out formal investigations of human rights abuses and its resolutions carry moral weight.

Egeland, the NRC secretary-general, called on South Sudan's government to reverse its decision to expel the country director, saying the removal "may negatively impact the ability for humanitarian organizations at large to operate in South Sudan."

Last week, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator said South Sudan's government had placed a series of restrictions on the delivery of aid. In the month of November, the U.N. recorded more than 80 incidents where aid workers had been attacked or blocked from doing their job.

South Sudan's government has repeatedly promised aid workers full access across the country.

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Lynch reported from Kampala, Uganda.