(IRINNEWS)Fighting between the Southern Sudanese army and an array of armed opposition movements is severely limiting the ability of humanitarian agencies to reach vulnerable populations, aid workers say.
In oil-rich Unity State, where the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) is fighting forces loyal to Peter Gadet, a former SPLA commander who joined the army after leading a Khartoum government-backed militia during the north-south civil war, then launched a new rebellion in April, there have been civilian casualties.
UN officials say a worrisome trend is the laying of new land mines. Tim Horner, deputy director of the UN Mine Action Office in Southern Sudan, told IRIN on 4 June that his organization had seen an increase in the number of “mine incidents and accidents” in the past six months. Although he said it was not possible to know definitely whether these incidents, in the oil-producing Greater Upper Nile region of the south, were due to cases of “re-mining”, he stressed that the anecdotal evidence pointed in that direction.
Sudan is party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
On 12 May, the road between the state capital of Bentiu and Tharjath, which has a private oil company airstrip also used by commercial airlines, was declared Category 4 or “no go” when two oil company water tankers and one commercial truck were “blown up by three anti-personnel mines”, according to a UN report on the incident. The advisory noted that the security category was increased “in view of indications of more mine laying activity in the area”.
UN security reports from the past two months highlight a number of incidents. According to one, a young boy stepped on a mine in Mayom County on 17 May and lost both feet.
In its quarterly report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that the humanitarian access situation had deteriorated sharply in recent months, highlighting the “commandeering of humanitarian vehicles and demands for use of humanitarian assets by [the] Sudan People’s Liberation Army” as among the most cited problems by OCHA’s humanitarian partners.
The agency said the most serious incidents occurred in Lakes State, where “six humanitarian vehicles travelling through Lakes were commandeered by SPLA troops and five of the drivers were made to drive into an area in Unity State where clashes erupted. The whereabouts of two of the drivers were unknown for two weeks and subsequent reports indicate that one of the drivers was killed.” OCHA also details other cases of commandeering of vehicles by SPLA troops in Lakes in May, including one on 14 May when drivers of two humanitarian vehicles were forced “to transport arms and ammunition”.
The road from the main airstrip to the state capital has been declared a “no-go” zone by the UN peacekeeping mission due to the land mines that have been laid in the past two months of army-rebel conflict.
The top local government official in the area where the fighting has been most intense is appealing for support for what he estimates are 7,800 people in his county who have been displaced by the fighting.
Commandeering of NGO vehicles and siphoning of fuel by southern troops has also been reported to OCHA in Juba on several key routes to Warrap State, where tens of thousands of people displaced after the northern army’s invasion of the disputed north-south border zone of Abyei have sought refuge.
Blockades imposed by the northern government in early May on the routes from north to south, which carry the bulk of the fuel and food supplies for densely populated southern border towns, including Bentiu and Wau, are increasing the severity of the situation and further curtailing the humanitarian response to the post-Abyei crisis.
With Southern independence just over a month away, internal conflict and badly strained north-south relations threaten to further derail humanitarian efforts in the south through independence and beyond