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Humanitarian Agencies Want More Access to Starving People in Sudan - 2002-07-02

Humanitarian aid officials say they want the United Nations to press Sudanese officials to allow more aid to the people of southern Sudan. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is meeting next week with the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.

Relief officials said they need full access to the people of southern Sudan to prevent more of them from dying of starvation and disease. During the past 19 years of civil war, it is estimated that two million Sudanese, most of them in the southern part of the country, have died from famine-related causes.

The civil war pits the forces of the Sudanese government against the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which are based primarily in the south. Relief groups said severe fighting has cut off hundreds of thousands of people from needed food and medical supplies, particularly in the Western Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria, and Bahr el Ghazal provinces.

Fergus Drake is an official of the humanitarian group Tearfund. He said relief agencies involved in Sudan want U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan to urge the Sudanese government to provide immediate and unrestricted access to all Sudanese at risk of starvation.

"We have to ask for specific landing strips in south Sudan where we can continue our humanitarian work. Unfortunately, a large amount of these airstrips are increasingly being denied to us by the government of Sudan. And we are very concerned that humanitarian aid is basically being prevented from reaching the very people it needs to go to," Mr. Drake said.

Mr. Drake said the humanitarian agencies would like the government troops and SPLA rebels to agree to so-called zones and periods of tranquility when fighting is suspended to allow aid in. They said unrestricted humanitarian access would greatly improve the lives of the people in southern Sudan.