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SUDAN: Tensions high, food short in Akobo

AKOBO, 11 August 2009 (IRIN) - Tensions have remained high in Akobo County of Jonglei State, Southern Sudan, a week after inter-ethnic clashes left at least 185 people, mainly women and children, dead.

"The Murle have attacked us, and the Jikany [Nuer] are stopping the boats from getting to us," John Tut, a Lou Nuer in Akobo said.

"We have to act as men to protect our people and fight back or they will continue to crush us."

Amid warnings of possible retaliatory raids, aid workers are also pointing to rising levels of malnutrition following significant displacement of people and the blocking of river access routes.

Akobo County Commissioner Goi Jooyul Yol said the 2 August dawn attack by the Murle occurred at Geni River in Mareng, 40km southwest of Akobo town. The women and children had camped in the area for three weeks trying to catch fish.

The leader of the Murle community, Chief Ismail Konyi, was quoted by the Sudan Tribune as calling for peace-building between the communities in Jonglei.

"If you ask who recently attacked the other in the area, you will only hear the name of [a community] because nobody is determined to go further and find out who was behind the raid and what actually caused that attack," he reportedly said in Juba.

"For any incident, there must be a cause and this cause, if not addressed, results into losing either lives of innocent people or properties."

Following the latest clash, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that its ability to deliver much-needed supplies was being hampered by the violence.

"WFP and its partners have called on the government to put an end to inter-tribal fighting, which is endangering the delivery of humanitarian aid," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

Extra helicopter and airplane flights are bringing in food, but the supplies cannot meet the needs of the community. At least 19,000 people were displaced in April after earlier Murle attacks, while more are reported to have fled the recent attack.

"Food assistance is the number-one humanitarian need in Akobo, besides protection," said Michelle Iseminger, head of WFP in Southern Sudan.

The roads to Akobo are closed most of the year due to rains, while the main river route has been blocked at Nassir by the Jikany Nuer upstream from Akobo, who have also clashed with the Lou Nuer.

"There is a massive need, there are many people who are hungry and need to be fed," Yol said.

Feeding programmes

An extra outpatient feeding programme targeting children has been opened by aid agency Medair, which had been providing inpatient paediatric care in Akobo County hospital since June.

"Many children are suffering from malnutrition," said Eunice Kavoi, team leader for Medair in the area.

The aid agency is also setting up a water treatment centre but it is currently forced to fly in basic materials such as fuel and cement at high cost due to the difficulties of bringing supplies into Akobo by river or road.

"We fear the situation in terms of nutrition will get worse if nothing is done to fly in more food for the community," Kavoi added.

Engage, government urged

On 11 August, the US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Southern government and the UN to “step up their efforts” to provide protection.

"To protect civilians, the Southern government needs to engage over a sustained period with state and local authorities from the communities involved, and with youth leaders in the cattle camps who carry out the attacks, to address the root causes of the conflict," said Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa director.

"They also need to track warning signs of revenge attacks, and deploy security forces accordingly."

Southern Sudanese officials have promised security will be boosted and the river opened to ship in more supplies. "I am optimistic the river will be opened in the coming days," said Yol. "I have had fruitful talks and have been assured that the boats will be able to pass along the river soon."

Some boats with supplies were seen in Akobo on 7 August, coming from Ethiopia on separate river channels from the main route via Nassir.

However, despite official assurances, no boats have been reported to have moved past Nassir. Aid workers stress that more must be done to ensure supplies get through.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Food Security

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Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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