“We are of course extremely concerned to see this flagrant abuse of UNICEF education materials by combatants,” UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe told reporters on Monday.
The complaint follows a report that large numbers of heavily-armed South Sudanese government soldiers were photographed donning bright-blue UNICEF ‘back to school’ bags on their shoulders.
“A large amount of UNICEF supplies — along with humanitarian supplies from other organizations as well as stores from schools and hospitals — have been looted in many locations during the conflict in South Sudan,” Crowe noted, adding, “Such thefts display a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work.”
The UN official urged the troops to “take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians – especially children.”
The incident marks the latest series of widespread looting of aid agencies including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Both government forces and rebels have been accused of pillaging items including vehicles, food stockpiles and medicines.
South Sudan has been witnessing deadly fighting since December 15, 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar, his sacked deputy, of attempting to stage a coup.
The conflict turned into a war between Kiir’s Dinka tribe and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group. Reports say as many as 10,000 people have lost their lives in the violence.