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Archive for May 31st, 2011

On the run – again. Residents of Abyei have been displaced numerous times in the past three years

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2011

SUDAN: Rains aggravate plight of displaced

On the run – again. Residents of Abyei have been displaced numerous times in the past three years (file photo)

NAIROBI, 27 May 2011 (IRIN) – Seasonal rains are among several factors to have exacerbated the crisis sparked by the sudden flight of tens of thousands of civilians from the disputed Sudanese region of Abyei, say aid workers, who point to both short- and long-term repercussions.

“Most of the roads in Southern Sudan are not passable during the rains and so that will make the movement of food difficult,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Amor Almagro told IRIN.

This is the second large-scale exodus from Abyei in as many months. In March, some 25,000 people fled the town amid clashes.

Earlier in the year, WFP had prepositioned some 27,000MT of food in Southern Sudan in anticipation of the rains, as part of plans to feed up to 1.5 million people in 2011.

“With what is happening in Abyei now, we will have to consider moving some 2,000MT of food from our logistical hub in El Obeid [North Sudan] to an operational base we are setting up in Wunrok in [Southern Sudan] Warrap state,” said Almagro.

“We have seen thousands of people – mainly women and children – carrying bags on their heads, or sitting on mats on the side of the road, exhausted by hours of walking. The populations of both Abyei and Agok [40km to the south] have been displaced and are spread out in several different areas: near Turalei, near Mayen-Abun and on the road to Agok,” said MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu.

“There are severe signs of dehydration among many children who are on the move. We are very concerned about the harsh conditions the displaced population has to endure on the roads. Their health condition can deteriorate rapidly if assistance is not delivered promptly,” he added.

The International Organization for Migration, which is among many agencies responding to the crisis, noted that “tracking and assessing the displaced population has been difficult because many people are still on the move or are hiding in the bush. The continued heavy rainfall has made some roads impassable and this has impeded access to areas where IDPs may be sheltering.”

On 21 May, Khartoum government forces took control of Abyei town, after clashes with soldiers from the soon-to-be-independent south.

Straddling the border, Abyei is supposed to be under a form of joint administration until a referendum determines its permanent status. Delays in this landmark vote have heightened tensions in the region.

For Andrews Atta-Asamoah, senior researcher of the African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACPP) at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the political priority now “is for the international community to insist that the North withdraws from Abyei and reinstate the Abyei Administrative Council. This will pave the way for the thousands of displaced people to return and for normality to resume.”

Food stability concerns

“Longer-term food stability is a major concern,” added Almagro. “This is the planting season and if people are not able to plant [because they are displaced] they will face shortages down the line and will require assistance for a much longer period of time than this lean season, when food from the previous harvest has run out.”

WFP had been supplying food to some 60,000 people in Abyei. Almagro said 800MT of food, enough to feed 50,000 people for a month, had been looted from the agency’s warehouse in Abyei town.

Photo: OCHA
Population movments in May 2011

Facilities run by other UN agencies and NGOs in the town have also been targeted. “Items looted include medical supplies, surgical equipment, non-food items and water and hygiene equipment. These supplies had been dispatched to Abyei town in recent weeks to respond to urgent needs of the town residents and the rural population of surrounding villages,” the UN Country Team in Sudan stated.

The displaced need urgent assistance, the statement added. “In Turalei, 130km from Abyei town, 15,000 displaced people are living in the open. An additional 4,000 people have sought safety in near-by Mayen Abun village. Unknown numbers are believed to have fled into the bush between Agok and Turalei.”

While an emergency response in sectors such as shelter, food, health, nutrition and water and sanitation is accelerating, “there are concerns that fuel is short and that nearby airstrips may become unusable due to heavy rains”, the statement added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “two out of three main [fuel] supply routes from the north into the south have been blocked since the beginning of May.

“A key priority for partners has been to establish the whereabouts of people who have fled to enable delivery of assistance. As of 26 May, humanitarian partners estimate that more than 30,000 people have made their way south. Reports of new arrivals continue,” OCHA’s statement added.

It also noted that while no outbreaks of communicable diseases had been reported as of 26 May, “there are concerns that the wet weather conditions increase the incidence of illnesses such as respiratory infections and water-borne diseases”.

am-cp/mw source

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Foreign Minister Støre presents Norwegian position at EEA Council meeting

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2011

In connection with a meeting of the EEA Council in Brussels recently, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre informed the EU of Norway’s position on the EU’s Third Postal Directive.

“There are weighty grounds for why Norway is unable to incorporate this directive. For the Government it is important to maintain mail distribution six days a week, uniform postage rates and decent working conditions and pay for Posten Norge’s employees. There is justified doubt as to whether the Third Postal Directive would provide for this,” said Foreign Minister Støre.

“I took the opportunity to present Norway’s view at this meeting of the EEA Council. The EU took note of Norway’s position and invited us to talks to discuss our objections. We have accepted this invitation,” said the Foreign Minister, adding that he anticipated that such talks could start before the summer.

By the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Duty Press Officer:May 23 2011

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AMISOM-backed government troops have intensfied their offensive against Al-Shabab insurgents

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2011

SOMALIA: Internet lifeline cut in Mogadishu

AMISOM-backed government troops have intensfied their offensive against Al-Shabab insurgents (file photo)

NAIROBI,  – Telecommunications companies based in Somalia’s largest open-air market have been hit by stray shells in the latest round of fighting, leading to internet failure in the past four days.

“Our internet service has been down since 24 May,” a senior official of an internet service provider, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 26 May.

The official said many people’s livelihoods depend on internet use; “for many businesses and journalists, the internet is their lifeline”.

He said his company was trying to revive the service. “We depend on the telecoms companies and when they get hit we are also hit.”

A local radio journalist told IRIN he was unable to send his reports to his station based outside the country. “It is very frustrating.”

The three major telecommunications companies, Nationlink, Hormood and Olympic, have their most important equipment at Bakara market, which has been a flashpoint in the fighting between insurgents and government troops backed by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers in the past two weeks.

“When we were setting up, in the 1990s, Bakara market was the safest place but now it is the most dangerous,” another official of a telecommunications company said.

The official told IRIN the headquarters of Hormood – the largest telecommunications firm in the country – in Bakara had been repeatedly hit by shells, killing and injuring staff and destroying equipment.

“It is not easy for us to move the equipment we have here, so we are caught in the middle of a war zone,” the official said.

In the past eight days, government and AMISOM troops have intensified an offensive to dislodge Al-Shabab insurgents who control Bakara market and parts of the city.

AMISOM spokesman Maj Paddy Ankunda told IRIN on 27 May that the mission was urging civilians not to expose themselves to crossfire.

“We have secured the road nearest Bakara as well as the southern and western edges of the market; I cannot put a time tag on how long the fighting will go on but we are urging civilians to get out of entanglement [in the fighting] as they will become increasingly vulnerable,” Ankunda said.

“About 80 percent of civilians [in Al-Shabab-held areas] have left for areas controlled by the government because of insecurity; if Al-Shabab chooses to continue fighting, they will bear the responsibility for the damage caused to Bakara market,” Ankunda said.

Appeal for help

The Hormood official said business people in Bakara had appealed to the government to save what was left of the market.

“We can talk to the government but we cannot talk to the insurgents,” the official said.

However, another businessman who has operations in Bakara told IRIN he supported the continuation of the offensive against Al-Shabab.

Photo: Mohamed Amin Jibril/IRIN
AMISOM has urged civilians not to expose themselves to crossfire (file photo)

“They [government forces and AMISOM] are making progress and are close to the market; they should continue until they dislodge Al-Shabab,” the businessman said.

He said many other business people were in favour of the offensive even though they would not admit it: “We are all aware of the cost and I am sure once this is over we will recover but they [Al-Shabab] must be eliminated at any cost.”

Traders have been leaving the market due to the intense fighting and have moved their wares to other parts of the city, a local journalist said.

“Most of the people have left the market; only those who could not leave like these big telecom companies are still there,” the journalist, who declined to be named, said.

However, the majority affected are poor civilians who buy what they need on a daily basis, the journalist added. “They don’t have the means to buy in bulk and store at home.”

Civilian casualties

Ali Mohamed Siyad, chairman of Mogadishu’s Bakara market traders, told IRIN the latest fighting around the market had been among the worst in years.

“A lot of businesses are being lost and the government, so far, has not responded to our appeal to safeguard Bakara,” Siyad said, adding, “Many people are losing a lifetime’s worth of work.”

Siyad said Bakara was not the only place where Al-Shabab had a presence in the city. “They [government troops] should be fighting them in areas less crowded and with less property to damage and destroy, instead of the biggest market in the country. It makes you wonder what the real purpose is.”

Medical sources told IRIN the number of injured seeking help was growing daily.

Ali Muse, who runs the city’s ambulance service, told IRIN his teams had collected 75 bodies and more than 249 civilians wounded from the market area and nearby neighbourhoods in the past eight days.

“We are receiving many families, including very small children and those of school-going age,” said Duniyo Ali Mohamed, head of the medical department of Madina Hospital.

She said the beds at the hospital were full and many families were sleeping under trees. She said the hospital also had to deal with families fleeing their homes.

“We are not equipped to deal with displaced people,” she said.

She said the hospital’s generators were working 24 hours a day “and fuel consumption was increasing as the prices are rising. If our fuel situation does not improve we may not be able to help those who need operations.”

ah/mw source

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