South Sudan’s government says it may withhold permission for aid workers to go to some rebel-held areas on security grounds, the president’s spokesman said, after the UN complained aid convoys were being blocked.
“We cannot allow them (aid workers) to go and then be hit by wrong elements against peace and then the government will be blamed,” said spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny.
“It is about safety for the humanitarians. It is to be co-ordinated and government can only clear the humanitarian workers when it is safe.”
South Sudan’s four-year-old civil war has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than three million. Earlier this year, the UN briefly declared a famine in the northern rebel stronghold of Unity state.
Ateny’s comments follow UN complaints that government has blocked aid deliveries to rebel-held areas in southern Equatoria over the last two months, but allowed aid to reach government-held towns.
Since May, four aid convoys have been prevented from reaching 30,000 displaced civilians in rebel-held areas in Central Equatoria state’s Kajo Keji county, the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.
Authorities also restricted relief groups from rural areas around Torit town in Eastern Equatoria, OCHA said.
Both counties face “emergency” levels of food insecurity, one step below famine, according this month’s report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system (IPC), a government-led statistical body.
In Western Equatoria, aid groups were denied access to rebel-held villages Kotobi and Bangolo, the UN said.
But aid deliveries have reached government-controlled towns, OCHA noted. South Sudan’s government holds most major towns in Equatoria and rebels are in the countryside. Aid groups are mostly based in the government-controlled capital, Juba.
Kenyi Erastus Michael, the rebel-appointed commissioner in Kajo Keji county, urged aid groups to send relief from neighbouring Uganda instead of trying to send convoys across front lines from Juba.
“Humanitarian agencies …want to bring their things from their main stores in Juba with permission from government, and then it is government sabotaging it,” Michael said.
South Sudan’s civil war is one of the most dangerous for aid workers in the world. At least 79 have been killed since the start of the civil war, including six in a single attack in March.