The U.S. has called on a Sudanese rebel group to stop recruiting soldiers, including children, from a refugee camp in South Sudan. A U.S. official says the camp must be moved further from the border to protect civilians from the military presence.
Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, says the U.S has told the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) to leave Yida refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity state, and to stop recruiting civilians to fight the Sudanese government.
“Our messages to them are really about the civilian nature of the camp, and we have asked them to not use the camp, which is supposed to be civilian, as a center for R&R or for recruitment of soldiers, and especially we’ve asked that they not take children to serve as soldiers on the other side of the border," she said.
Richard said that the U.S delegation visiting Yida on Monday saw how militarized the camp of more than 60,000 people had become, despite a reported drop in recruitment recently.
“There were uniformed military in the camp, and we saw them, and that’s not the way refugee camps for civilian are supposed to be run. We had in mid-to-late September trusted reports that recruitment was going on. My understanding is that some of that has subsided," she said.
The SPLM-N, which supported south during decades of civil war in Sudan, started fighting Khartoum once again around the time of South Sudan’s secession in July 2011. Most of the fighting was in South Kordofan state at first before spreading to Blue Nile state.
South Sudan denies that it is still supporting the rebels, while Khartoum has denied accusations that it has bombed the refugee camp, which is calls a rear base for the rebels.
SPLM-N spokesperson Arnu Ngutulu said the allegations about recruitment at the camp were not true, and asserted that Khartoum was behind the claim.
The United Nations refugee agency has wanted to move the Yida camp for months, as it is much closer than the recommended 50 kilometers away from the area of fighting.
This prevents aid agencies from delivering long-term services such as education that Richard says refugees are demanding.
“What we would like to see, is the mothers and children moved to a much safer location, where we can provide a lot more education, a lot more skills training, get them away from this dangerous area," she said.
Over 175,000 refugees have fled more than a year of fighting and hunger in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Most have gone to South Sudan or Ethiopia.
Richard says the U.S is extremely concerned about people in the two states. She says no one knows many people may flee south in the coming months, but adds that it could be “tens of thousands."