|Southern Sudan soldiers have been accused by human-itarian groups of obstruction, hijacking, and harassment. (Sayyid Azim/Associated Press/File)|
Aid groups accuse Sudan army of looting
JUBA, Sudan — The army of Southern Sudan has been looting food convoys and carrying out other attacks on aid groups, officials of those groups alleged, and a top military officer warned yesterday that the humanitarian groups could be expelled if the complaints get too “harsh.’’
The aid community in Southern Sudan documented 80 incidents of obstruction, vehicle hijackings, or harassment of aid staff by southern troops since February. No aid staff have been killed, but several have been wounded.
International aid workers are worried that access to needy populations in a region already plagued by hunger may be further restricted as an independence referendum scheduled for January approaches. The vote would determine whether the south splits off from Sudan and forms a separate country. The United Nations says that 4 million people in Southern Sudan — roughly half the population — rely on food aid to survive.
In one incident, staff from the aid group Tearfund were reportedly beaten and detained by soldiers where southern opposition politician Lam Akol is believed to have support.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the former rebel group that now forms the army here, denies it is deliberately hindering humanitarian work, but a spokesman acknowledged an incident did occur in Upper Nile state in June in which staff from the aid group Tearfund were beaten and detained by SPLA soldiers.
Army spokesman Lieutenant General Kuol Deim Kuol said the southern army believed one of the staff members who was beaten and detained was supplying food and medicine to elements of a militia the army suspects is allied with an opposition party. The spokesman alleged that this militia has ambushed government boats along the Nile River.
A Tearfund official in Juba declined to comment, saying the group’s director was out of the country.