South Sudanese rebels have kidnapped eight locals working for a U.S. charity and are demanding aid deliveries as ransom, a military spokesman said on Monday, as food in the famine-hit nation looks increasingly likely to become a weapon of war.
The aid workers were taken from a village near Mayendit, about 680km northeast of the capital of Juba, Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang told Reuters.
"The rebels attacked and abducted eight local staff from Samaritan's Purse and they are being held to ransom. They have demanded that the organisation takes aid to them," he said.
No one at the charity was available for comment.
Clashes between the army and rebels killed at least 23 people and injured 56 in the same area on Sunday, Koang said, with the insurgents attacking government positions, looting and setting fire to houses in the oil-rich Bieh state.
"They attacked our position on Sunday. Our forces fought back in self defence and managed to repulse the attackers," he said.
A rebel spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, sacked his deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, in 2013.
The fighting has split much of the country along ethnic lines and paralysed agriculture, prompting the U.N. to declare last month that parts of the country are suffering from famine.