Red Cross urges respect as aid workers held

The Red Cross Saturday called on all sides in the Ukraine crisis to respect the neutrality of its members after nine aid workers were held for hours in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Red Cross urges respect as aid workers held
An armed man guards a voting booth in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo: AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross "is a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organisation," Michel Masson, the head of the ICRC delegation in Ukraine, said in a statement.

"We call on everyone involved to respect the Red Cross emblem," he said, stressing that the Geneva-based organisation "depends on the full cooperation
and understanding of everyone involved in the clashes."

"Without that, it becomes very difficult for us to do our job, to respond adequately to the needs of all those affected by the violence," Masson said.

His comments came after one Swiss ICRC member and eight volunteers from the Ukrainian Red Cross were detained for several hours late Friday in Donetsk by a group of armed men.

"One volunteer was roughed up during the incident and had to be taken to hospital," ICRC said in the statement, adding that the man had since been treated and quickly released.

Scores of people have been killed and many others injured during clashes in Ukraine's restive Russian-speaking east after pro-European protestors ousted Kiev's Moscow-backed leader several months ago.

The team was in the town to evaluate the needs of the population, the ICRC spokesman for Europe and Central Asia, David Pierre Marquet, told AFP.

"That is probably why they were freed so quickly, their mandate was very clear," he said.

The ICRC expressed gratitude to "all those responsible for resolving this incident speedily", but did not identify who had detained its members.

Earlier Saturday, however, the self-proclaimed "People's Republic of Donetsk" said its rebels had held them on suspicion they were spies.

The brief detention underscored jitters on the eve of an independence referendum in the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The Red Cross, which earlier this week said it had donated medical supplies for people injured during violent clashes in Donetsk, stressed that it remained committed to "addressing the humanitarian needs arising from the situation in eastern Ukraine".

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South Sudan civil war victims face famine

Tens of thousands of people forced to flee violence in South Sudan could go hungry, with fighting interrupting the planting season and cutting off supply chains, the Geneva-based Red Cross warned Monday.

South Sudan civil war victims face famine
Photo: Julius Kusuma

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, when president Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.
Most recently civilians have been uprooted from the opposition-held town of Leer, in an oil-rich part of Unity State, and from Kodok in Upper Nile State, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
It cautioned that hostilities could sever escape routes, and said it feared civilians could suffer from a lack of food and health care while on the run.
In addition, the displacement from Leer, including of many people already uprooted by fighting in Unity state a year ago, “comes just as the country's crucial planting period is under way,” ICRC said in a statement.
“The upheaval will no doubt negatively impact residents' ability to plant food that would be used to feed their families next harvest season,” it said.
The fighting had also forced the ICRC to halt its regular activities and reduce its staff in Leer, where the organization has one of its largest food
distributions in the world.
“Prolonged displacement exposes people to suffering. We fear that the situation of some 100,000 people in Leer, who are now hiding in unimaginably difficult conditions, will worsen day by day,” said Franz Rauchenstein, who heads the ICRC's delegation in South Sudan.
“The ICRC must be able to access these communities. We call upon all involved in the fighting to facilitate the lifesaving work of Red Cross workers,” he added.
The fighting in the world's newest country, which only gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been characterized by ethnically-driven massacres, rape and attacks on civilians and medical facilities.
The violence, which has escalated into an ethnic conflict involving multiple armed groups, has killed tens of thousands of people.
ICRC said Monday that intensified shelling in the area of Kodok town was endangering the lives of patients at a hospital it supports there, and said
that although the hospital remained open, it had moved its nearby operational base to Oriny.
It reminded all parties involved in the fighting that civilians and medical facilities cannot be targeted, according to international law.
“The more fighting in South Sudan expands, the more . . . the vulnerable will suffer, whether from the risk of sexual violence, a lack of food and medicine or forced conscription of the young,” ICRC said, stressing that using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is a war crime.