Fighting intensifies in southern Sudan

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The Independent Online
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Fighting between government troops and rebels has intensified in the area of south Sudan where international aid agencies are struggling to avert a hunger crisis, aid agencies and government sources said yesterday.

An offensive by government militias into rebel-held territory in northern Bahr el Ghazal forced aid workers to evacuate relief centres in the area, leaving tens of thousands without urgently-needed food.

"There is heavy fighting in the area," said Ali Sadiq, a spokesman at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi. "Government troops have launched a counter offensive to retake areas the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] took last year."

The World Food Programme, Medicins Sans Frontieres, and World Vision said they have evacuated staff, usually for short periods, from emergency feeding centres several times in the last week because of security alerts.

Government militia forces have been joined by Arab pastoralists in attacks around the government-held garrison towns of Gogrial and Aweil, aid workers said.

Earlier this month, Operation Lifeline Sudan, an umbrella group of UN and non-governmental organisations, said it believed it could avert a looming famine threatening up to 350,000 people in Bahr el Ghazal after the government gave permission for extra aircraft to fly food to rebel- held areas.

But the WFP said yesterday that it has not been able to reach at least 85,000 people in the north of the province because of insecurity.

World Vision staff were evacuated from a feeding centre treating 800 malnourished children last Friday but were able to return the next day. MSF reported evacuations from three relief centres in the area last week.

The SPLA and other rebel factions have been fighting the government in Khartoum for almost 15 years. The rebels want autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist south from the Muslim north.