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Southern Sudan: UN relief chief alarmed by rising violence

27 May 2010 – The top United Nations humanitarian official arrived today in southern Sudan and expressed alarm at the threats to vulnerable people in the area posed by food insecurity, displacements and inter-tribal violence, which he called a “recipe for disaster.”

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes arrived yesterday in Sudan on his fifth official visit to Africa’s largest country, to assess conditions in the south, which is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence early next year as part of a 2005 peace accord that ended 20 years of civil war with the northern-based national Government.

Visiting Warrap state, Mr. Holmes reviewed programmes providing food, nutrition, health care and education, as well as meeting with local authorities, tribal leaders and elders on civilian security.

Warrap is one of the two states in southern Sudan most affected by recent inter-tribal clashes, and it has been reported that the attacks have become more organized and violent, with the use of automatic weapons on the rise. Earlier this month, fighting killed more than 30 civilians and drove nearly 6,000 others from their homes.

The other state heavily affected by the violence is Jonglei, where the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to evacuate 10 staff members earlier this week due to rising concerns over security.

“Not only is [the violence] disproportionately affecting women and children, it is also occurring in areas that are suffering lack of food and malnutrition, and where humanitarian agencies cannot reach,” Mr. Holmes said.

During a stop at a nutrition centre operated by the non-governmental organization (NGO) World Vision International with the support of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), he spoke with staff members and those benefiting from the scheme.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated one-quarter of Warrap’s population suffers from acute malnutrition, compared to the 15 per cent average for all of southern Sudan. The rate of food insecurity has tripled in the region since last year.

“We know the situation in southern Sudan is posed to become more desperate over the coming months,” the Under-Secretary-General said. “The humanitarian community must gear up to respond to the needs from forced displacement and the deteriorating food security situation, working closely with the Government of Southern Sudan.”

Tomorrow, Mr. Holmes will visit the town of Wau as well as southern Sudan’s capital Juba, where he will meet with Government officials and representatives of UN agencies and NGOs.

While in Sudan, he will also visit war-torn Darfur and confer with the Government in Khartoum, the national capital.

The official arrived in Sudan from Chad, where he was assured yesterday by that country’s President Idriss Déby that his Government will take responsibility to protect civilians, including the humanitarian community, as the UN prepares to end its peacekeeping mission there by the end of the year.

During their meeting, which took place one day after the Security Council voted to end the UN mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) in line with his request, Mr. Déby emphasized the need for support from the international community as the Government assumes this responsibility.

The mission was set up over two years ago amid increasing unrest in eastern Chad, which hosts at least 250,000 refugees from Darfur and 180,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) driven from their homes by inter-communal unrest.

But with new agreements on border security between Chad and Sudan, and with the Chadian Government stating that MINURCAT was not strong enough to provide complete security, the Government said in February it felt it was better for Chadian forces to take over.

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