Sudan fighting cuts aid supplies

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The Independent Online
FIGHTING has broken out in southern Sudan again, preventing the distribution of emergency food aid. Aid agencies helping to feed starving people in the centres of Kongor and Lafon have been forced to withdraw.

The fighting appears to be between the two factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), but John Garang's faction says that the fighting is a result of his group's new offensive against the government. The SPLA has been fighting the Khartoum government for 10 years, but in 1991 it split into factions along tribal lines. Riak Machar, the deputy leader of the movement, who is Nuer, tried unsuccessfully to overthrow John Garang, the president of the SPLA, who is Dinka. Since then the two tribes have been fighting each other and each accuses the other of collaborating with the Khartoum government.

Nurses from the Irish aid agencies Goal and Concern flew to the airstrip for Kongor as usual on Sunday morning, but when gunfire broke out nearby they were forced to leave. It appears that the town, held since March by Mr Garang's faction, was under attack by forces loyal to Mr Machar. Aid agency sources said the attack appeared to have been repulsed but the area remains insecure.

Mr Garang's faction said yesterday that his forces were engaged in 'major battles' with government troops in parts of the south. It said Sudan air force Antonov bombers and MiG warplanes had raided its forces in what it described as co-ordinated attacks between Juba and Nimule. The road to Nimule is Mr Garang's only access road out of southern Sudan and if it is cut his movement could be encircled.

The statement also confirmed that Garang forces were under attack at Kongor and this can only come from the other SPLA faction. In Khartoum, a senior Foreign Ministry official yesterday said the fighting was between the two factions.

There have been ceasefires between all the parties since May. Despite minor violations they have largely held, though this may have more to do with the rainy season than with good will. Now the rainy season is over fighting could escalate, threatening hundreds of thousands with starvation.

According to the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association, the relief wing of Mr Garang's faction, there are about 42,000 people dependent on food aid in the Kongor area. About 6,000 stay in Kongor and the others camp in the surrounding bush. According to Goal there has been only a slight improvement in nutritional levels since the aid agency started working there in April. Children are not dying of hunger, but the entire society is on the brink of starvation. All relief food is flown in daily, with teams of nurses.

Until two weeks ago Goal operated outside the United Nations Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) structure and continued to fly to Kongor when the UN deemed it too dangerous. Two weeks ago, however, Goal agreed to work with the UN and will now have to wait for security clearance before its workers can go back again.