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Abducted Samaritan's Purse aid workers released in South Sudan

(Reuters/Siegfried Modola)Women and children wait to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer state, South Sudan, February 26, 2017.

Eight local staff members of Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse in South Sudan were released on Tuesday after they were reportedly abducted earlier this week.

Samaritan's Purse said in a statement that it was "thankful to God" for the safe release of the South Sudanese aid workers. The charity also expressed its gratitude to the World Food Programme for helping to relocate them.

A military spokesman announced on Monday that the staff members of the charity were abducted by South Sudanese rebels who were demanding aid deliveries as ransom.

According to Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, the aid workers were taken from a village near Mayendit, about 420 miles (680 km.) northeast of the South Sudan's capital of Juba.

"The rebels attacked and abducted eight local staff from Samaritan's Purse and they are being held to ransom. They have demanded that the organization takes aid to them," Koang told Reuters.

Samaritan's Purse confirmed the abduction in a statement but denied that there was a demand for ransom.

"Samaritan's Purse confirms that some of our South Sudanese staff in the Mayendit area of South Sudan have been detained by armed personnel," stated the humanitarian aid organization.

"We have been in contact with them, and they have not been harmed. No ransom request has been made, and we are hopeful that they will be released soon and safely," it continued.

Samaritan's Purse noted that it had been distributing food to the people in the Mayendit area for over two years. The charity was forced to remove some of its staff from the country two weeks ago due to violence.

South Sudanese rebels denied the reports that their troops abducted the aid workers, saying the kidnapping story was government "propaganda" and untrue.

According to a report from the Citizen-Times, another group of opposition forces claimed that the aid workers were "recovered" rather than kidnapped. Opposition spokesman Mabior Garang said that the Samaritan's Purse staff members were "recovered" by the opposition forces after heavy fighting with enemy combatants.

Samaritan's Purse stated that South Sudan is in the midst of a "level 4 famine." It called on all parties involved in the conflict to allow "complete and unfettered humanitarian access" in order to provide for the needs of the starving population.

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