A new wave of ethnic violence is sweeping an isolated region of South Sudan. Maban county, close to the border with Ethiopia and Sudan, has been the scene of brutal killings in which six aid workers have been murdered.

All are believed to be Nuer.

“The killings began yesterday morning,” said Toby Lanzer, Deputy head of UN operations in South Sudan, or Unmiss.

“There was one incident in which an aid worker, a member of the national staff, was attacked. It was awful, really terrible, but we thought it might be an isolated incident. But during the night the situation spiraled out of control,” said Mr Lanzer.

Mr Lanzer put out a statement on Monday, laying out the situation.

 Maban is the home of a large-scale aid operation supporting 127,000 refugees and their host communities. South Sudanese and international aid staff work tirelessly to provide life-saving relief to people who have come to South Sudan for protection and assistance. In the past days, violence and harassment of civilians and aid workers – including based on their identity – has increased in the area. Such crimes put the humanitarian operation in Maban at risk, jeopardizing the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children who count on aid organizations for their survival.

Since Monday the situation has deteriorated further

Mr Lanzer said the attacks are being carried out by a local militia of who are engaged in what he described as a “tragic hunt” for anyone from the Nuer tribe. “Six people have been executed,” said Mr Lanzer “and others are missing.

The United Nations has sent two platoons to the area – some one hundred men. Their goal is to secure the airfield and move the national staff who are at risk from the refugee camps, where they have been working, to the airfield so that they can be evacuated.

The six dead belong to four different NGO’s. Only one – Norwegian People’s Aid – has so far been willing to be named.

They have put out a press release, deploring what took place and mourning the death of one of their members of staff, Gabriel Yien Gach.

I spoke to Ms. Kathrine Raadim of Norwegian People’s Aid who described how Mr Gach had been stopped at a checkpoint, hauled out of the car, and shot because he was a Nuer.

The violence is said to have erupted after a group of soldiers defected from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in Maban on Sunday. Fighting broke out in and around Bunj, the County capital. There are suggestions that a local militia, calling itself the Maban Defence Forces was responsible for hunting down and killing any Nuer they could find.