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Attacks on aid workers fuel humanitarian crisis in South Sudan

by Julius Gale JUBA (Xinhua) -- An upsurge in insecurity, attacks on aid workers and convoys in war-torn South Sudan could increase risks of famine where some 100,000 people are already starving and another 1 million on the brink of starvation, experts have said.

James Okuk, Lecturer of Political Science at the University of Juba, said the recent killing of six aid workers in eastern South Sudan, coupled with increased attacks on relief convoys would impede delivery of much-needed aid to famine strike communities.

"Killing of aid workers will scare humanitarian organizations to deliver relief aid.

"And if they don’t deliver, we will have a lot of threats like hunger and spread of diseases because the country currently relies on aid," Okuk told Xinhua on Tuesday.

He said humanitarian agencies play a vital role in feeding huge number of South Sudan’s population mainly comprised of malnourished children.

The lecturer added that any move to scare away humanitarian agencies from South Sudan may result in more children dying, spiraling of violence and mass displacement of people into neighboring countries.

"The current trend means frustration and hopelessness for the South Sudanese citizens because the only hope they have now is for them to get assistance from humanitarian organizations," Okuk said.

"When they get hopeless or frustrated, we never know what they will decide to do.

"Some will decide to leave the country into neighboring countries where there is a sense of sanity and some of them might opt to pick arms.

"All these are not good for the country at all," he added.

James Alic Garang, Senior Economist at Juba-based Ebony Center for Strategic Studies and Assistant Professor of Economics at Upper Nile University said continued killing of aid workers sends a negative signal that the armed actors and some communities don’t understand roles of humanitarian agencies.

Garang said such behavior if not contained would led to some areas being cut off from receiving relief aid, which will have devastating impact on needy people.

"For one to kill aid workers is a disturbance to our country and it also sends a shock or a chilling psychology to the minds of the humanitarian community.

"So this would have a negative impact on aid distribution or access to aid and overall equity of the nation," Garang said.

"My appeal is that all parties must exert maximum effort to end the war and that is the only way out to stop the humanitarian crisis and attacks on aid workers," he added.

South Sudan has been embroiled in more than three years of conflict that has taken a devastating toll on the people of South Sudan.

The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced into neighboring countries and another 7.5 million people across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, and a localized famine declared in February in parts of northern unity state.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said last week in its monthly bulletin that aid agencies were forced to temporarily suspend operations in the famine-hit northern county of Mayendit over episodes of violence against aid convoys, workers and looting of humanitarian supplies across the country.

Gunmen ambushed and killed six aid workers on a road linking Juba to Pibor in Boma State last month.

According to the UN, South Sudan has become a hostile environment for aid workers to operate with at least 79 aid workers killed since the civil war began in 2013.

It added that some 12 aid workers have been killed and eight humanitarian convoys attacked this year alone.

Under International Humanitarian Law, intentional attacks against humanitarian relief personnel may constitute war crimes.

Pius Ojara, Director of NGO Forum, a network of non-governmental Organizations operating in South Sudan said the latest killing of six aid workers has caused panic among relief agencies, calling on authorities to scale up protection for humanitarian personnel, their property and premises.

"The killing of the aid workers has created a sense of fear and sense of apprehension around the safety and risks of humanitarian workers lives here," Ojara said.

"We believe that whatever the humanitarian needs are, we should be able to respond to save lives. So that is what keeps us here in South Sudan.

"So protecting and ensuring safety of aid workers will help us to respond to the needs of the population more effectively because we will save lives that way," he added.


East Africa bloc commend opening of humanitarian aidcorridor for South Sudan

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- East Africa bloc on Thursday welcomed an announcement by Sudan to open an additional overland humanitarian corridor to deliver food aid to thousands of people suffering from famine struck towns of El-Obeid to Bentiu in central South Sudan.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Executive Secretary Engineer Mahboub Maalim called on South Sudan authorities to provide unfettered access to all relief supplies to reach the famine-stricken areas.

"We commend the government and people of Sudan for hosting their South Sudanese brothers and sisters as refugees, who have so far arrived since the civil war erupted in 2013," Maalim said in a statement.

He said the corridor that is in addition to the one between Kosti and Renk, which the governments of Sudan and South Sudan opened in 2014, will be used to deliver aid to the famine-stricken populations.

According to Maalim, this is a clear demonstration of Khartoum’s "commitment" to save lives of South Sudanese affected by ravaging drought and war.

Famine was recently declared in Mayendit, a village in South Sudan’s Unity state, the latest crisis in the country’s three-year civil war.

About 100,000 people are said to be at risk, and aid groups are pleading for access.

According to a UN report at least 7.5 million people across South Sudan, two thirds of them need humanitarian assistance.

"We urge the government and the people of South Sudan to support and provide all the assistance required by the humanitarian agencies to access the people in dire need of food and relief so that the lives of our people can be saved," said Maalim.

He reassured the two neighboring countries and the region of its commitment and support for crossborder and regional cooperation, peace and prosperity.

Top Ethiopian, Kenyan athletes to fundraise for famine-hit South Sudan

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- Nine athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya have teamed up to launch the Great Run South Sudan marathon in a bid to raise funds to fight famine and poverty in the war-torn East African country where 100,000 people are facing starvation.

The event led by retired Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete, Haile Gabrselassie is slated to take place in the South Sudan capital Juba on Saturday.

Organizers said the 10km race would be graced by six and three professional athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya respectively, and is expected to attract about 500 local participants.

President Salva Kiir said the event would enhance peace, unity and cultural harmony in the war-ravaged country.

"I appeal to every South Sudanese citizen to show the rest of the world our concern, our local effort and commitment to help famine affected children, mothers and the elderly by making financial contributions," Kiir said.

Kiir also called on his opponents to denounce violence and join peace initiatives to allow resumption of development in South Sudan.

"I also take this opportunity to renew my call to those who are still in the bush to denounce, give peace priority and allow us to join hands with our development partners to secure and maintain peace amongst our people," he said.

"Our neighbors have made tremendous contributions and now it is time for us to show that we love our people and country," the South Sudanese leader said.

South Sudan has been devastated by civil war that broke out in December 2013 after President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Machar denied the accusation but then mobilized a rebel force.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 led to the formation of a transitional unity government in April, but was again shattered by fresh violence in July, 2016.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, with over 2 million displaced and another 4.6 million left severely food insecure since December 2013.

Last month, the UN declared localized famine in parts of South Sudan, warning that some 100,000 people are already starving and another 7.5 million people, nearly half of the population need humanitarian assistance and protection.


UN peacekeepers prevented from accessing
areas of reported killings in South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- UN peacekeepers were prevented "twice in as many days" from accessing area of reported killing in South Sudan by government troops in the world’s youngest country, Eri Kaneko, the UN associate spokesperson, told reporters here Wednesday.

"The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that UN peacekeepers have been prevented twice, in as many days, from accessing Pajok in Eastern Equatoria by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)," Kaneko said at a daily news briefing here.

The UN mission has received reports of fighting between SPLA troops and the Opposition there and is trying to follow-up on reports of civilians killed in the area, she said.

"This morning, the UN mission’s patrol was stopped at a checkpoint seven km outside Torit and was prevented from proceeding further," Kaneko said.

"The patrol remains at the checkpoint and is continuing to negotiate access."

"UNMISS is concerned by these reports and calls on the government to immediately allow the mission access to Pajok, as obligated by the Status of Forces Agreement, so it can fully implement its mandate, including to protect civilians and report on human rights violations," she said.

South Sudanese rebels (SPLA-IO) on Wednesday blamed the killings of over 16 civilians on Monday in the border town of Pajok on government troops (SPLA) in fresh clashes that have further displaced thousands across the Ugandan border.

In early July last year, close to the fifth anniversary of the country’s independence from Sudan, South Sudan was plunged into fresh violence due to clashes between rival forces—the SPLA, loyal to President Salva Kiir, and the SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO), backing former First Vice-President Riek Machar.

That led to deaths and injuries, including many civilians and several UNMISS peacekeepers, jeopardizing the peace agreement between the political rivals in August 2015, which formally ended their differences.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, pitting President Kiir against Machar after political dispute caused fighting to spread along ethnic lines between Kiir’s mainly Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer.

The fighting has since killed thousands and displaced more than two million from their homes with the United Nations Refugee agency confirming 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

The UN agencies declared in February a man-made famine with 100,000 people starving and further one million on the brink in the northern counties of Mayendit and Leer in northern Unity state.

Rebels blame South Sudan troops on killing of 16 civilians in border town

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudanese rebels (SPLA-IO) on Wednesday blamed the killings of over 16 civilians on Monday in the border town of Pajok on government troops (SPLA) in fresh clashes that have further displaced thousands across the Ugandan border.

SPLA-IO deputy military spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel told Xinhua in an interview that among the dead include a community leader and a health worker who were publicly executed in the border town located 148 km southeast of the capital Juba.

"They (SPLA) have broken down and looted all shops and grinding mills, parked vehicles and motorcycles have been lined up to be pulled to Juba. Network has been cut off to avoid communications.

"They have blocked Uganda border and took some civilians trying to cross to Uganda hostage," Lam said.

"Some (civilians) have ended up being killed for having been suspected to have associated with SPLA-IO.

"The government just wants to escape being blamed for killing those civilians.

"Those were all civilians not armed," he added.

However, Deputy SPLA spokesman Brigadier Domic Chol Santino confirmed the operation to have taken place against rebels allied to former first Vice President Riek Machar and instead said those killed were armed bandits who were involved in looting and destruction of shops and property.

The rebel spokesman added that the death toll could rise due to the nature of the attacks and the poor communication network in the remote area.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, pitting President Sala Kiir against his former deputy Machar after political dispute caused fighting to spread along ethnic lines between majorly Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer.

The fighting has since killed thousands and displaced more than two million from their homes with the United Nations Refugee agency confirming 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

A peace agreement signed in August 2015 to end the more than three years of conflict was shattered following renewed July clash last year, and the UN agencies declared in February a man-made famine with 100,000 people starving and further one million on the brink in the northern counties of Mayendit and Leer in northern Unity state.

South Sudan government releases six aid workers

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan has released six aid workers who were arrested in January on suspicion of smuggling arms to the country’s opposition, the charity confirmed late on Monday.

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) confirmed that its staff who were arrested in South Sudan’s Yei River State on Jan 4 have all been released.

The charity said the two staff who were released on Jan. 27 and four others on March 31 are part of a group of six workers who were arrested early this year.

Two of the aid workers are foreigners while four are South Sudanese.

However, the Director of Operations for MSF, Brice de le Vingne, said the medical charity is concerned about the incident but is relieved at the release of the four staff members.

"We are very concerned about this incident and we are relieved that our colleagues, who were working hard to bring healthcare to people in need, have now been released and can return to their families," Vingne said in a statement.

The aid workers were arrested on suspicion of transferring weapons to the opposition, an allegation which MSF vehemently denied but the government maintained that the charges against the six aid workers were valid.

The charity said it maintains its commitment to continue its life-saving work in South Sudan.

Humanitarian workers in South Sudan have often faced working difficulties in their operations in the famine-stricken world’s youngest nation.

According to the UN, at least 79 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since the beginning of the December 2013 crisis, including at least 12 killed in 2017, and at least eight humanitarian convoys have been attacked already this year.

South Sudan arrests five people over wildlife crimes

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan wildlife ministry said Wednesday that five people have been arrested and over 150 kilograms of bush meat seized after a convoy of suspected poachers was intercepted near the capital, Juba.

Khamis Adhiang, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism told Xinhua the poachers were busted at the remote village of Bilinyang, some 15 kilometers east of Juba.

Adhiang said the seized bush meat indicates that the poachers killed over 40 different species of animals, adding that the suspects would be produced in court and charged under the country’s anti wildlife crimes law.

"Our wildlife officials arrested five people who were found loading bush meat on motorcycles.

They have been put in police custody and we shall soon take them to the courts," Adhiang said.

He said food insecurity and biting economic hardship has forced many people to resort to poaching of wild animals as means of sustaining their diets and income.

The official further revealed that conservationists have seized over 2,000 kilograms of bush meat during an Interpol-led anti wildlife crimes operation between February and March.

War-torn South Sudan is host to one of the world’s largest mammal migrations, according a U.S. based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), but there has been a worrisome reduction in many of the country’s wildlife populations since the 1970s.

The agency attributed the decline to food insecurity and economic hardship that has increased illegal trade in wildlife and also threatens survival of rare wildlife species such as elephants and Rhinos in the world’s youngest nation.

Official figures from the wildlife ministry said the population of giraffes declined from about 100,000 to 300, and the population of elephants declined from 80,000 to fewer than 2,500 from the 1970s to 2013.



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