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South Kordofan Fighting Puts 20,000 Lives at Risk in South Sudan

Refugees protest at Yida camp in South Sudan at the lack of UN military intervention and humanitarian assistance to provide food, water, schooling and health services, November 17, 2011.

The U.N. refugee agency warns some 20,000 refugees in South Sudan are increasingly at risk as fighting rages near the country's northern border with Sudan. The UNHCR says the fighting also is hampering efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims.

The U.N. refugee agency reports military confrontations in the border area of Jau have not yet hit the Yida refugee settlement, which is located several kilometers away from the battle zone. Nevertheless, the agency says some refugees, fearful of coming attacks, are fleeing into the bush.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says the escalating insecurity also is affecting the ability of aid workers to access the refugees and provide them with humanitarian assistance on a regular basis.

"Unfortunately, assistance has been disrupted repeatedly, although we do continue to try, and we are providing the most lifesaving emergency services, such as food, water and health care," said Fleming. "Also to note that we continue to receive refugees in that area, about 60 to 110 per day, who are also giving these accounts of increased fighting as their reason for fleeing."

Fighting between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army-North has been going on since early June before South Sudan seceded from the north on July 9. The UNHCR's fear that the fighting could spread to the refugee settlement in Yida is not unfounded. The area was hit by air strikes in November.

Fleming says the UNHCR is very concerned the clashes could again reach Yida camp, possibly in the form of ground clashes or aerial strikes.

"As a consequence, we are speeding up our efforts to relocate these refugees away from this border," Flemming added. "The U.N. Mine Action Center is helping to clear the mines from the road. As I reported as well, this was a big hindrance in our efforts to relocate the people. But, we are hoping very soon, we will be in a position to relocate them."

Meanwhile, the UNHCR is reporting refugees are still arriving in the eastern part of South Sudan at a rate of 650 a day, after fleeing Sudan's Blue Nile State.

It says a group of 10,000 refugees recently were identified near Elfoj in Maban county of South Sudan's Upper Nile state. It says thousands more are believed to be stranded in remote locations along the border.