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Displaced people hit by food shortages in Unity state’s Leer county

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January 22, 2014 (KAMPALA) - Nearly 40,000 people have arrived in Unity state’s Leer county after they were displaced by the army’s offensive to retake the state capital, Bentiu from rebel groups, according to a humanitarian agency.

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IDPs stack their belongings up outside the gate of the UNMISS compound, after government forces on Friday retook the provincial capital of Bentiu, in Unity State, Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 (Photo AP/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin)

The Unity state capital fell back into government control on January 10 after soldiers from the South Sudanese mutinied on 20 December. Fighting started after clashes on 15 December between members of the presidential guard loyal to president Salva Kiir and supporters of former vice-president Riek Machar.

Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes following the recapture of the oil rich state capital by the South Sudanese army (SPLA) forces. Since the conflict began, over half a million people have been displaced according to the United Nations.

Research organisation the International Crisis Group (ICG), has estimated that as many as 10,000 have killed in the last five weeks of violence.

The International Rescue Committee (ICR), a non-governmental organisation based in the United States, says 38,000 internally displaced people have arrived Leer, with more arriving everyday.

Bentiu town was severely damaged in the fighting that saw the SPLA retake the key oil town 12 days ago.

Many civilians have lost properties and fear to return due to lack of food in the areas, describing the state capital as a front line between the rebels and the government soldiers.

A source in Leer county told Sudan Tribune on Monday that the number of those running away from the conflict areas is increasing everyday. Lack of humanitarian assistance is making the situation very challenging, the source said, as there is no food in the markets.

Health care has also become a huge challenge although the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has relocated to Leer after the security situation in Bentiu deteriorated and is attempting to treat the thousands of patients at Leer hospital.

Most of those who have walked the 130 kilometers to Leer from Bentiu have been women and children.

Some areas of Unity state remain inaccessible by road due to heavy floods that hit most parts of South Sudan last year, making it difficult deliver humanitarian aid.

As well as Unity state, Upper Nile and Jonglei have also seen large parts of the army defect and join the rebels, who are being led by Riek Machar.

Delegations from both sides have been negotiating a ceasefire deal in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa since the beginning of January but so far the two sides have not signed a deal.

However, diplomats and analysts say that an agreement may be signed over the next few days. Once the ceasefire deal is in place political negotiations will begin, most notably over the status of 11 senior politicians who have been detained for over a month accused of being involved in an alleged coup attempt.

The detainees and rebels both deny the fighting on 15 December was an attempted coup and accuse Kiir of trying to silence his critics, who claim he has become increasingly dictatorial over the last two years.

(ST)

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