(AFP) – Sep 7, 2011
KHARTOUM — Sudan has denied UN and other aid agencies access to Blue Nile state, where at least 50,000 people have been displaced by fighting that erupted last week, the UN humanitarian office said on Wednesday.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that fighting, including air strikes, had continued in eight locations since Sunday, including around the state capital Damazin, despite government insistence that most of the state has been calm since clashes began on Friday.
"UN agencies and international humanitarian partners... have requested permission from the government to travel to Sennar (the neighbouring state) and to secure parts of northern Blue Nile state to assess the situation and assist in addressing humanitarian needs," OCHA said in its latest report.
"But they have so far been denied access to do so," it said, adding that, as in nearby South Kordofan, where a similar three-month-old conflict is still raging, the government has insisted that aid be provided through national partners such as the Sudanese Red Crescent.
Clashes broke out in Damazin last Friday, between the army and ex-rebel forces loyal to the elected governor Malik Agar, after a build-up of troops and weapons in the politically divided border state.
The US envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said it was "extremely important" for both sides to allow full access to humanitarian aid agencies.
"We shouldn't wait on the humanitarian crisis... We think this is extremely important and we hope that action should be taken on that front," he told reporters in Khartoum, after meeting Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti.
The forces of the SPLM-North, which Agar heads, were driven out of the state capital, but fighting quickly spread to other areas, in what has become the third major conflict to unfold since May in southern districts just across the border from newly independent South Sudan.
The newly installed military ruler of Blue Nile, Yahia Mohammed Kheir, told reporters on Monday that, except for some clashes in the south of the state, the situation was "very calm," a claim contradicted by OCHA.
"Fighting, including aerial bombardments, has been reported in Dindiro, Ulu, Kurmuk, Geissan, Menza, Yabus and Um Darafa, as well as in various places in Damazin locality" between the army and the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army -- the SPLM military wing) since Sunday, OCHA said.
The UN report says the fighting in Blue Nile state has prompted at least 50,000 civilians, "and possibly many more," to flee their homes, including 20,000 people who crossed into Ethiopia from Kurmuk, Geissan and Menza.
The commissioner of Bau locality, Babikir Mohammed Osman, told AFP on Monday that more than half of the 175,000 people living in his area were on the move because of the fighting, many of them SPLM supporters who feared retaliation.
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