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Help needed for Sudan''s displaced following referendum, says UN agency

Help needed for Sudan''s displaced following referendum, says UN agency

A UNHCR convoy carrying Sudanese refugees stops for a break on the way to South Sudan
With the historic referendum on South Sudan''s independence now complete, help is needed to support the return of southerners back to the South from other parts of Sudan, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which is seeking $53.4 million for this effort.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 200,000 southerners have already returned from the North over the past three months. In the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, some 75,000 others have registered to go back.

“Relief agencies anticipate that as many as 800,000 southerners will return from the North this year, which will add pressure on the already fragile humanitarian environment,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva today.

“UNHCR''s role is mainly focused on ensuring monitoring of protection needs along the way, at transit points and in return areas,” he stated.

“We are also facilitating reintegration, particularly in urban and semi-urban settings. We are also setting up way stations along major return routes where we provide water and sanitation, health services, reception and rest facilities.”

January''s week-long referendum was a culminating point of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending two decades of civil war between the North and the South that killed some two million people and drove an estimated 4.5 million others from their homes.

An overwhelming majority of the nearly 4 million voters that took part in the referendum opted for secession. Both sides still have to work out a number of post-referendum arrangements with regard to issues such as border security, citizenship and the sharing of oil revenues.

UNHCR said the main reason people have given the agency for moving to the South is because they have concerns about their citizenship status if they remain in the North.

“But many also express keenness to be part of South Sudan''s rebuilding,” said Mr. Edwards.

In New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon''s Special Representative Haile Menkerios said the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been trying to assist capacity-building and social services in South Sudan and would send a team next week to cooperate with the Government in assessing the needs.

“The need is everywhere, it''s a new Government, it''s a new State actually being built, the needs are tremendous,” he told reporters.

In a related development, the Secretary-General today expressed concern over the renewed fighting in Southern Sudan between the Sudan People''s Liberation Army (SPLA) and rebel forces loyal to George Athor , which has reportedly resulted in at least 100 civilian casualties.

Mr. Ban called on the SPLA and General Athor “to immediately implement the ceasefire agreement between them, and stresses the responsibility of the Government of Southern Sudan in protecting civilians,” according a statement issued by the spokesperson of the Secretary-General.