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May 31, 11

NEWS / Sudan: UN efforts under way to assist civilians displaced from Abyei

31 May 2011 –
The United Nations said today that humanitarian operations in Sudan are under way, focusing on identifying the location of the tens of thousands of civilians uprooted by the recent clashes in the disputed town of Abyei and responding to critical relief needs.

However, the scale of the displacement has placed considerable strain on the humanitarian response operation and conditions among displaced groups are worrying, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The disputed town of Abyei, which is contested by both north and south Sudan, was the scene of renewed violence last week, including looting and burning, following the takeover of the area by Sudanese Government forces.

Deadly clashes have claimed dozens of lives since the start of the year, when a referendum on Abyei’s status that was supposed to have been held never took place amid disagreement on voter eligibility. Southern Sudan will formally secede from the rest of the country on 9 July as a result of a separate referendum.

OCHA stated that insecurity, the lack of response partners on the ground and logistical constraints have limited access by humanitarian actors to Agok and surrounding villages, as has a chronic shortage of fuel.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP), which was supporting 62,000 people before the clashes began, has started distributing food to some 6,000 newly-uprooted people.

Noting that the displacements come at the height of the planting season, the agency said that unless people are able to return to their farms, there will be a shortage of food and that the number of those in need of food aid could climb to 100,000.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is concerned about the risk of wider displacement in the area south of Abyei, after a field visit there last week found the town virtually emptied of its normal population of 50,000 to 55,000 inhabitants.

“Large numbers of fighters were present on the streets. Pilfering was openly going on, with people apparently organizing batches of stolen belongings,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

He added that the UN team saw a stream of civilians heading south towards and past Agok. “A number of villages just south of Abyei were burning. Many people feared that Agok itself might soon be attacked,” said Mr. Edwards.

UNHCR says that so far 31,256 displaced people have been registered in Warrap state and 27,961 in Agok itself. Smaller numbers of displaced people have also been seen in neighbouring states to the southwest of Abyei.




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