Government of Sudan Blocks Food Aid to South

News and Press Release
Originally published
By ROBERT H. REID Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Sudanese government restrictions on international food aid to its war-ravaged south have put 700,000 people at risk of starvation, the U.N. World Food Program says.

Some U.N. officials believe Sudan's government simply wants to prevent adequate food supplies from reaching rebel areas regardless of the effects on civilians.

"We can't get food in there, and people are going to start starving," program director Catherine Bertini told reporters Thursday. "We are already seeing stick-like legs, bloated bellies and hair that is taking on the reddish hue, indicating serious malnutrition."

Last September, Sudan barred the World Food Program from using C-130 transport planes to deliver food to the south, where Christian and animist rebels have been battling the northern, Muslim-dominated government since 1983.

The government claims humanitarian groups have used planes to smuggle weapons to rebels. The United Nations and other organizations have denied the claim.

Food requirements are especially urgent now, Bertini said, because supplies are traditionally low during the summer. Supplies harvested last year are running low and the new crops will not be ready for two months.She said U.N. warehouses in Nairobi, Kenya, were well-stocked with donations from the United States, Australia and Europe.

Bertini said the Sudanese government allows the food program to ship food into the south by truck and aboard smaller Buffalo cargo planes. But heavy rains have made land shipments "virtually impossible," she said. The Buffalo planes can carry about half as much cargo as the C-130s, she said, and cannot be used for air-drops -- often the only way to deliver
supplies to remote areas of the country.

As a result, the U.N. agency has been able to deliver only 2,314 tons of food during the first half of this year compared with 9,120 tons last year. The agency had planned to distribute 12,000 tons in the first six months of this year.

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