Southern Sudan suffering hidden emergency - Britain

KHARTOUM, June 14 (Reuters) - Southern Sudan, ravaged by more than two decades of civil war, is suffering from a hidden emergency and urgently needs aid, British Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn said on Tuesday.

He said Britain had appointed a special envoy for a separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region and was donating a further 12 million pounds ($22 million) to the African Union force monitoring a shaky ceasefire there, taking Britain's total contribution to the AU mission in Darfur to 32 million pounds.

"The international community has rightly focused on the crisis of Darfur ... but there is also a hidden emergency in southern Sudan which continues every day of the week," Benn told reporters in Khartoum.

Former southern rebels signed a peace deal with the government in January to end a conflict which has claimed more than 2 million lives and forced 4 million from their homes.

But aid pledged in Norway earlier this year, although it exceeded expectations, has failed to materialise on the ground and people are suffering in the underdeveloped south, one of the poorest areas in the world.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick during a visit to Sudan this month expressed concern at the slow rate in which donor countries were delivering on their pledges, and said the people of the south needed to see a peace dividend to preclude further conflict.

Benn declined to say when the 20 million pounds pledged by Britain for the south would be delivered.

Benn visited Darfur and the south, and met senior officials in Khartoum. He said Alan Goulty, the former British ambassador in Khartoum, had been appointed as Britain's special envoy for Darfur. Goulty is attending peace talks in Nigeria.

"All of the focus now is on the people at those talks to make sure they reach an agreement," he said.

The Darfur talks between the government and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) got off to a faltering start after conflict over mediation from Chad and Eritrea.

Benn added the African Union monitoring force in Darfur had told him while clashes between government troops and rebels were less frequent, rebel groups were mostly responsible for the continuing violence, mainly in the form of banditry and looting.

"There is a very clear message from the international community ... to the SLA and the JEM take your concerns and your political demands to the negotiating table and stop the fighting in Darfur," he said.

He said there was an urgent need to increase the number of AU troops on the ground. There are about 2,400 troops and hundreds of civilian police in Darfur and the AU plans to increase its force to more than 7,700 this year.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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