• OFWs starting to leave South Sudan

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    Eleven overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) arrived in Manila from conflict-torn South Sudan on Christmas Day as the Philippine government officially activated its repatriation program there earlier this week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

    In a text message, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the 11 OFWs arrived at 10:50 p.m. on December 25 (Wednesday) on board Emirates Airlines flight EK 334.

    The group was composed of male engineers and field supervisors. They were evacuated to Nairobi in Kenya by a US C130 plane on December 22.

    As of press time, some 15 OFWs were already evacuated in Uganda and 11 more were en route to that country.

    Twenty workers remained in Kenya while four were evacuated in Khartoum in Sudan. Five Filipinos took a flight to Dubai from Juba.

    The Philippine Embassy in Kenya, which has jurisdiction over Philippine affairs in South Sudan, is in touch with some 31 OFWs who are still in South Sudan, Hernandez said.

    “Our embassy in Nairobi continues to assist those who wish to leave South Sudan and efforts are underway to locate and contact as many Filipinos as possible,” he added.

    The DFA raised alert level three in South Sudan shortly before Christmas Day. Hernandez said there are a total of 95 OFWs in the country.

    Alert level three means voluntary repatriation, which effectively activates the Philippine government’s repatriation program. All expenses incurred under the program, especially if the workers’ employers are unable to pay for their repatriation, will be shouldered by the Philippine government.

    The announcement came amid the US government’s decision to evacuate its citizens from a rebel-held town and as hospitals reported that about 500 have already died in the inter-ethnic fighting.

    Violence has been escalating in South Sudan since last week after former Vice President Riek Machar allegedly attempted a coup.

    South Sudanese President Salva Kiir offered to open talks with the opposition but Machar denied the coup attempt and instead accused Kiir of conducting a “violent purge” over the past week.

    Government forces and Machar’s loyalists are now fighing against each other.

    Tens of thousands of people have been affected by th fighting, with some taking shelter in United Nations bases.

    United States President Barack Obama, for his part, warned South Sudan that Washington and its allies will cut aid to the country if a coup
    is pursued.

    Following its declaration of independence in 2012, the Philippines immediately recognized South Sudan as a sovereign state, with the two nations establishing formal diplomatic relations in March of this year after the signing of a joint communique that aims to strengthen economic relations and cooperation on global issues. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON

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