South Sudanese Troops Steal Backpacks Meant for Children

UNICEF calls out government soldiers for pillaging supplies intended for children

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Carl de Souza / AFP / Getty Images

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers wearing UNICEF backpacks walk along a road in Mathiang near Bor on Jan. 31, 2014.

The U.N. children’s agency lashed out against South Sudan’s government troops this week after a group of them were photographed wearing bright-blue UNICEF school backpacks intended for children.

Troops from the country’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army were walking along a road in Mathiang, near Bor, on Jan. 31 when AFP photographer Carl de Souza snapped the picture. Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the agency, told AFP it was “extremely concerned to see this flagrant abuse.”

Crowe said the looting of supplies from aid groups, schools, businesses and hospitals has been frequent during the conflict that erupted late last year. “Such thefts display a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work,” she added, urging both sides to “take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians—especially children.”

Seven weeks after fighting erupted between the troops of President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to his ex-deputy Riek Machar, aid groups are racing to cover the basic needs of the nearly 900,000 people who have been uprooted from their homes. This week, the U.N. and a slew of international aid organizations appealed for $1.27 billion to help them provide emergency relief for those affected by months of violence.

On Monday, the U.S. urged South Sudan’s sparring factions to honor and implement the ceasefire they agreed to in late January. The power struggle has left at left at least 1,000 dead, with estimates much higher.