KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Of the major conflicts in the world right now, perhaps the most forgotten after Yemen is South Sudan. It became the newest country in the world just five years ago, but then it fell into civil war. We'll hear about how in a few minutes.
But first a report on a vicious attack on aid workers last month at a hotel in South Sudan's capital, Juba. Because of that attack, some aid agencies have evacuated staff, and others have scaled back their operations. A warning here - this story includes graphic descriptions of violence. Here's NPR's Jason Beaubien.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: As fighting erupted last month in the dusty dirt streets of Juba, foreign aid workers hunkered down in their compounds across the city. The violence raged for four days and left more than 300 people dead. On the southwestern edge of the capital, more than two dozen aid workers took shelter inside the grounds of the Terrain Hotel. Most of them were foreigners from the United States, Australia, the Philippines. On the fourth day of the fighting, South Sudanese troops broke through the hotel gate.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We kind of heard them going through, ransacking all of the cabins on the compound.
BEAUBIEN: This woman, who's asked that we don't use her name, retreated along with about 30 other people into a second-story apartment block at the hotel.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The soldiers were trying to break down the door, and then they started shooting through the door.
BEAUBIEN: For several hours as the soldiers pillaged the Terrain Hotel, humanitarians frantically called to the U.N., the U.S. embassy and private security firms to send help. At the U.N. base just a mile up the road, armed peacekeepers with armored vehicles stayed sheltered inside their base. The U.S. Embassy said it didn't have the resources to dispatch a rescue team. And private security companies also said the streets were too dangerous to reach them.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When they finally broke down the door, the soldiers just came to the bathroom where all of the girls were hiding, and they just picked us out of the bathroom one by one.
BEAUBIEN: The government soldiers also took out a local South Sudanese journalist who was working for Internews, a USAID-funded media development project, and they shot him to death in the yard. Then the soldiers turned back to the women.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He kept hitting me with an AK-47 over and over again and screaming at me to open my legs, open my legs. You know, I'm going to kill you if you don't open your legs.
BEAUBIEN: Eventually she says a commander ordered the soldier to stop before she was raped. Others weren't so fortunate. At least five women were raped. One told the Associated Press she was sexually assaulted for hours by 15 men.
Steve McCann, a security and risk assessment specialist based in the U.K., says the Terrain Hotel incident signals a shift in this conflict.
STEVE MCCANN: Certainly something changed and things happened that we're not used to seeing happen.
BEAUBIEN: McCann's company, Safer Edge, works training international relief groups in war zones around the world, including South Sudan. He said South Sudan has been a dangerous place for years, but in the past, he didn't expect foreign aid workers would be directly and personally attacked.
MCCANN: No, we didn't feel as though international staff were the targets, no.
BEAUBIEN: There are places in the world where international aid workers are the targets - parts of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, for instance. Before the Terrain Hotel attack, South Sudan was considered dangerous, but it wasn't one of those no-go countries. Julien Schopp with Interaction, an umbrella group for development and relief agencies based in Washington, says this incident was the culmination of growing insecurity for aid workers in South Sudan.
JULIEN SCHOPP: If you look at the latest aid worker security report, for the first time, South Sudan is the most insecure location in the world, overtaking Afghanistan, Somalia, where we expect more violence.
BEAUBIEN: Aid agencies in South Sudan are having to reassess their operations at the same time that there's a cholera outbreak. Malaria's on the rise. Two and a half million people have been driven from their homes, and millions more are in need of international food aid. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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