The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed concern about a new American law which provides authority for the use of food aid for rebel fighters in southern Sudan. Meanwhile, Khartoum has condemned the possible move to provide food aid to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) as a declaration of war. "The declaration of (US President) Bill Clinton to give food aid to the rebel movement represents an irresponsible American behaviour," news agencies quoted government spokesman Ghazi Salahuddin as saying on Wednesday.
WFP, which is one of the main organisations involved in the distribution of food to the Sudanese people, previously said it was worried that the safety of all food providers might be jeopardised if some were seen to be partisan. The controversial provision is contained in a US foreign operations bill, part of the US budget, which Clinton signed into law on Monday. WFP is concerned about the impact any one-sided food distribution might have on the credibility of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), an inter-agency effort which is currently feeding two million people every month.
The White House says President Clinton has not yet decided whether or not to exercise the authority granted him under the foreign operations bill. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said WFP was worried the US move, if implemented, could "potentially jeopardise their logistics operations in the air and on the ground. They fear they could become military targets if their planes were confused with any new aircraft delivering US food."
Minister warns food aid could be arms
These fears appeared to be justified on Wednesday when a junior Sudanese foreign minister, Gebriel Rorec, was quoted as saying he feared the US food aid could turn out to be arms supplies to the SPLA. Rorec, quoted by the official 'Al-Anbaa' daily newspaper, said the US should offer humanitarian aid through OLS unless "it is planning to supply arms, ammunition and funds for arming the rebels to fight the government army". Sudan's Parliament Deputy Speaker said the decision was a reaction to a recent reconciliation accord in Djibouti between Khartoum and the opposition Umma party.
Rubin condemns deal with Umma
US State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters that the agreement signed on Friday in Djibouti between Khartoum and the opposition Umma party was merely indicative of Khartoum's intransigence, as it did not "address the main concern that we've all had (concerning) Sudan's crackdown on human rights, its deliberate policies of deprivation, and its refusal to approach peace seriously." The agreement was described by its signatories as "a declaration of principles" and contemplated a four-year transition period, to be followed by a referendum in southern Sudan on whether to confirm unity with the north or to secede.
Mahdi agreement with Bashir angers his NDA partners
The agreement was condemned by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) opposition umbrella group in Cairo, of which Umma is a member. The NDA said it was not consulted about the agreement, which would create further divisions and escalate the long-running conflict. The NDA had earlier urged Umma party leader and former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi to call off the meeting with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, which took place in the margins of a meeting of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD).
Dongola rebuilds after floods
Nearly 12 weeks after Nile floods threatened to wash Dongola away, the biggest town in northern Sudan has begun the slow process of rebuilding, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The river broke its banks on 10 September, submerging much of the town and ruining the homes of some 50,000 people. No-one was killed in the floods. State governor al-Badawi al-Khair Idris was quoted as saying some 6,000-7,000 houses were destroyed, affecting more than four-fifths of the town's residents. Dongola, situated some 750 km north of Khartoum, is frequently hit by floods, but this year's were far worse than usual.
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