2,000 die in 2009 south Sudan violence, group says

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2009 10:49 AM

At least 2,000 people have died and 250,000 have fled their homes following violence in southern Sudan this year, worsening a humanitarian crisis in a region seeking its independence, officials from a medical aid group said Monday.

Officials from Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said this year's violence is the worst since the signing of a 2005 peace deal between south Sudan and the north, an agreement that ended two decades of civil war.

The group's operations director in Sudan, Stephan Goetghebuer, said the 2009 killings are different from past violence in the south that was linked to land clashes and cattle rustling. This year, villages have been attacked, and raiders have targeted and killed women and children, he said.

The group said that 87 percent of the people it treated this year were victims of gunshot wounds, but that the number of people killed in the violence is three times higher than the number of wounded.

"There are very few survivors. People are killed massively," Goetghebuer said.

Goetghebuer said aid group officials don't yet understand the underlying reasons for the attacks. MSF has been working in Sudan for 30 years.

Sudan could face huge political upheaval next year that risks re-igniting the country's civil war as the south prepares to vote for independence in early 2011.

An MSF report on the humanitarian crisis in south Sudan released Monday said there were warning signs before some of this year's attacks, but neither the government of southern Sudan nor the U.N. mission in Sudan protected the communities.

Karla Bil, MSF's medical coordinator in Sudan, said at least 2,000 people have died in violence this year.

Shelagh Woods, MSF's deputy head of mission for Sudan, said the recent violence was exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis, which aid agencies based in south Sudan have not adequately responded to. She said the displaced were living in overcrowded camps without clean water, which led to the spread of deadly diseases like cholera. Woods said in one camp they had treated 300 cholera cases.

She said that despite the large presence of aid agencies in Sudan, only a handful of them of can respond to humanitarian emergencies quickly and effectively.

U.N. and Sudanese officials have expressed concern that the violence in the south could hamper preparations for national and presidential elections scheduled for April 2010.

In January, Sudan will mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, which ended 21 years of civil war between northern Sudan and southern Sudan. An estimated 2 million people died from that conflict.

Garang Garang Diing, an official with the government of southern Sudan at the embassy in Nairobi, blamed some of the violence on the north. The rest of the violence, he said, were incidents of cattle rustling.

He denied that the government of south Sudan had prior knowledge of any of the attacks and said there was evidence of elements of Sudan's northern government were involved in some attacks.

"We have arrested people smuggling guns into southern Sudan from the north," he said.

He linked the violence to the 2011 referendum in which the southern Sudanese are to vote whether to become independent from the north. Diing said the north could be causing the violence to make the south look ungovernable.