Taiwanese volunteers safe back home after South Sudan ordeal

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Two Taiwanese volunteers have returned to Taipei unscathed after a 30-hour nerve-racking trek in Southern Sudan, an East African country ravaged by a bloody civil war.

Hsu Chia-wei and Fan Chen-hwa, however, told reporters that circumstances permitting, they would return to the African country to continue their humanitarian mission there.

The two men were in Abyei, a border town claimed by South Sudan but currently controlled by the northern Sudanese government, on a humanitarian mission co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' International Cooperation and Development Fund and Mercy Corps until the morning of Dec. 18, 2013, when a call from Mercy Corps told them to rush to a city 200 kilometers away to board a flight out of the country, as the situation was getting out of control.

The volunteers were there to help local villagers raise crops and draft business proposals. But in mid-December last year, armed conflict and racial violence flared in Juba, the Southern Sudanese capital, killing more than a thousand people.

Once alerted, they hurriedly stuffed their belongings into two backpacks and hopped on a waiting bus, which got stuck in bog midway to the unnamed city.

With no usable phones to call for help, the duo hiked the remainder of the way, sometimes in waist-deep water, to a village, where they paid a villager NT$2,000 (S$85) apiece for a motorcycle ride.

Unfortunately, the motorbike got a flat tyre under the combined weight of the three men after driving for 90 minutes, and they had to look for someone who could mend it. The repair took an extended period of time, and the two felt uneasy as villagers that spoke a language they did not understand gathered around them as the sky darkened.

A checkpoint where officials checked their passports was their last hurdle before boarding a rickety propeller aircraft at a makeshift airstrip for a flight to Awei, the Southern Sudan city where they boarded a connecting flight to Kenya.

"The official in charge told us they would like to have something to drink, and luckily we were smart enough to grease his palm," Fan recalled. "And he let us go."