South Sudan army denies 'starvation' aid blockade

2015-08-05 15:25
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Juba - South Sudan's army on Wednesday dismissed as "propaganda" rebel claims of an aid blockade aimed at starving them into submission ahead of peace talks to end the 19-month civil war.

The United Nations and humanitarian agencies have also said aid is being restricted, including into areas already on the brink of famine.

But army spokesperson Philip Aguer denied it had blockaded boats travelling on the Nile river, the main route for aid into the largely roadless northern areas, including areas under rebel control.

While boats were warned they risked coming under rebel attack, reports of a blockade were "mere propaganda not based on concrete facts", Aguer said on Wednesday.

The rebels accuse the government of using aid restrictions as a tool to weaken them.

"The regime is starving these populations as another weapon of war to kill thousands more," rebel spokesman James Gadet said in a statement.

"The pretext that our forces have been attacking barges which had been carrying relief assistance is false."

The UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien warned on a visit to South Sudan last month that river barges carrying food and medical aid were being stopped.

O'Brien on Tuesday repeated the need for "rapid and unhindered access", recalling how he had urged President Salva Kiir to "ensure restrictions on Nile aid transport be lifted immediately."

Poisonous atmosphere for peace talks

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

Regional mediators, backed by US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, have given South Sudan's rivals until August 17 to halt the civil war.

Talks were initially slated to start in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday, but neither side has given official confirmation of when they might turn up.

Obama on Tuesday also warned Kiir and Machar that if they fail to strike a deal the US will "move forward with a different plan, and recognise that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required."

Accusing the government of "genocide" and intending to "starve the people to death", the rebels said government actions may "spoil the atmosphere of the expected peace negotiations in Addis Ababa."

During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopia hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.

At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.

Over 70% of the country's 12 million people need assistance with some areas on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands have been killed.

Aid agencies including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last month warned of restricted access to some of hardest hit areas, severely limiting specialised food to save starving children, and forcing people into "inhumane conditions".

One in three children countrywide are acutely malnourished and 250 000 children face starvation, the UN says.

Read more on:    riek machar  |  salva kiir  |  south sudan  |  east africa

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