Eight native staff members of Samaritan’s Purse were released from detention in South Sudan on Tuesday.

The staff were reported to have been abducted by rebel forces on Monday in the Mayendit region, and some reports even mentioned that the kidnappers requested food as ransom.

However, Samaritan’s Purse denied that there was any ransom request, and clarified to Voice of America that the staff were detained, rather than abducted.
“They were clearly held against their will, but we do not see it as a kidnapping,” Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse, told Voice of America.

The rebel forces also denied on Tuesday that they kidnapped the Samaritan’s Purse staff, who are also residents of the Mayendit area.

“These aid workers are supporting the community and these communities are in liberated areas. So, how should we even abduct someone who supports you?” Lam Paul Gabriel, a deputy rebel spokesman, told Reuters. “It is unreasonable to do that. It is just a matter of branding us as bad people.”

Samaritan’s Purse released a statement on Tuesday expressing gratitude for the safety of the staff.

“Samaritan’s Purse is thankful to God for the safe release of our South Sudanese national staff, who had been detained by armed personnel in the Mayendit area of South Sudan,” the group said.

“There was no ransom request, and the previously detained staff members are now in a safe location,” the statement continues. “We are grateful for the World Food Programme’s support in helping us relocate them.”

According to Samaritan’s Purse, the group had been active in providing food to the people residing in the Mayendit region for over two years, but pulled out its local staff two weeks ago after the group feared violence would come in the area.

In the month of February, the local staff in the Mayendit area provided food for more than 100,000 people, the organization said.

Meanwhile, the nation of South Sudan has been undergoing a violent civil war, and the United Nations declared recently that it is also in a state of famine.

In February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP) stated that as many as 5 million people may face extreme food shortages by the summer if they do not receive aid.

The violence in the South Sudanese villages has hindered efforts in providing food aid as well, according to Samaritan’s Purse.

“Because of local fighting in the [Mayendit] region, we have had to temporarily halt our food distributions,” the group stated. “Please pray that God will enable us to restore our teams back to Mayendit and resume ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the people there.”