The head of the United Nations humanitarian office today called for better protection of civilians in southern Sudan when visiting thousands of people who have fled their homes over the past three years because of persistent attacks on villages by members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
“The protection of civilians must be at the heart of the planning process of the recently announced joint Government initiative for an anti-LRA force,” said Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, when she visited the 13,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Ezo county of Western Equatoria state.
“All components of the force, in particular armed community defense groups, should be subject to close Government oversight, in collaboration with expert protection partners,” said Ms. Amos on the third day of her visit to Sudan.
Discussions between Ms. Amos, local officials and the IDPs focused on the humanitarian impact of the violence, which has severely disrupted farming in the fertile region. She also attended a general food distribution at an IDP camp and visited a mobile health clinic.
Ms. Amos later travelled to Abyei, an enclave between southern Sudan and the north and which is claimed by both sides. On January 9 next year, the day of the referendum on the self-determination of southern Sudan, residents of Abyei will decide on whether to join the south or remain part of the north.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator visited the town of Agok where 50,000 sought regfuge after fleeing Abyei town in May 2008 when fighting erupted between the southern army and forces of the national Government. Tensions between the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok ethnic groups remain high.
In Agok, Ms. Amos visited a primary and secondary health care centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), where more than 2,000 children under the age of five have been treated for severe malnutrition since the beginning of the year. A food security assessment conducted in October 2009 revealed that 30 per cent of the Dinka Ngok population and 23 per cent of the Misseriya population are facing food shortages. Some 52,000 people receive food aid in the greater Abyei area.
On the ongoing referendum-related contingency planning by the humanitarian agencies, Ms. Amos stressed the need for a “negotiated access framework be agreed between the North and the South in the transitional areas in order to ensure that humanitarian partners are able to deliver assistance to vulnerable populations in areas where conflict could erupt.” She added that “people in need of humanitarian assistance must be assisted irrespective of which side of the border they find themselves.”
Tomorrow, Ms. Amos will travel to Darfur, where renewed violence has hindered the access of humanitarian workers to those in need of assistance.