WFP halts food aid in South Sudan
Juba - The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday it had suspended operations in two states in South Sudan because of insecurity, deepening the region's crisis ahead of its independence in July.
A WFP staffer was killed in an ambush in Jonglei state this week, forcing the WFP to suspend aid to seven of 11 counties in the state beset by clashes between the army and rebels.
The WFP said the south Sudan army (SPLA) also commandeered a lorry full of food aid destined for schools in Lakes state, prompting a full suspension there.
The halt will deny rations to some 235 000 people.
The oil-producing south voted in January to separate from the north and form a new nation, the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war in Africa's largest nation. The conflict claimed at least two million lives.
Since the historic vote, the underdeveloped south has been beset by violence and insecurity. The United Nations says more than 800 people have died this year in clashes across nine of the south's 10 states, displacing nearly 100 000 people.
Analysts say the violence - including rampant cattle rustling, tribal clashes over land and water, several rebel militia fighting to overthrow the government - risks making the south a failed state and destabilising the region.
An additional problem is the oil-producing Abyei region, which straddles north and south Sudan and is claimed by both sides.
"In Jonglei state we have suspended operations in seven out of 11 counties, this will affect 135 000 people who are in need of food rations," said Amor Almagro, a WFP spokesperson.
"In Lakes state 100 000 people will be affected ... 5 000 school children will not get their school lunch because the truck that was carrying the food was commandeered by the SPLA."
Almagro said WFP distribution would not resume until there was a government guarantee "that our colleagues and staff and our assets will be protected and we will not be prevented from providing humanitarian assistance".
In nearby Unity state a rebel militia began fighting the SPLA last week, and more than 100 fighters have been killed, according to the army. The clashes disrupted oil production in the state, officials said, but they could not provide figures.
During the clashes, officials expelled then re-admitted north Sudanese workers from oil areas in the state, showing how insecurity threatens oil output, Sudan's economic lifeblood.
Problems of security
Gideon Gatpan Thoar, information minister in Unity state, said on Wednesday that 113 workers had now returned of the 318 who left, and production had been steady in their absence.
"The others will come back. We have assured oil companies that workers will be safe," he told Reuters, adding that the northern workers had only been removed for their own saftey.
Independence for south Sudan, with a population of some eight million, is less than three months away.
The intense rainy season is just beginning, which will compound the problems of insecurity and aid because much of the territory becomes inaccessible.
The south and north fought for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005 over differences in ethnicity, religion, ideology and oil. Most of the 500 000 barrels of oil per day comes from the south, and the future revenue shareout has not been decided.