Commanders in South Sudan’s army (SPLA) have ordered soldiers to loot food and relief supplies from civilians in Unity State.
Radio Tamazuj quotes a military source at the ministry of defense saying civilians are being forced to government controlled areas to tell the outside world that the government is capable of providing protection to populations in areas under its control.
According to SPLA, such actions would deprive the rebels access to relief which they may get indirectly through family members like wives who are eligible to receive food aid.
If civilians cross into government controlled areas, the rebels will eventually lose access to aid and starve.
Last week, General Paul Malong, the SPLA chief of staff and the highest military officer in the country next to General Salva Kiir, ordered the closing down of the Nile to humanitarian traffic.
Malong, also the chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Northern Bahr al Ghazal State and the former state governor, instructed all field commanders to block humanitarian organizations from using river transport to bring relief assistance to displaced people in rebel-held areas.
The ban imposed by the authorities also applies to humanitarian vehicles on the ground used by aid workers to deliver supplies and monitor the population’s humanitarian needs.
United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said their patrol was turned back at a checkpoint in Rubkona last Friday while government barges were seen leaving Bor heading north along the Nile in the direction of Tayar and Leer carrying military supplies.
A day before, SPLA and allied militia forces attacked Dablual village in Mayendit County following a food distribution, stole food, and caused thousands to flee to the bush.
Juba writes to UNOCHA
In a letter to the UNOCHA coordinator in South Sudan and UNMISS chief of staff, SPLA Maj-Gen. Majier Deng Kur said that “approvals of barge movements from Bor to Malakal [are] to be suspended till further notice… all barges that have reached Malakal should remain in Malakal…”
Maj-Gen. Majier is senior team leader of the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JVMM).
His letter further stated that the reason for this was because of “uncertainty of the safety of their passage along the Nile from Bor to Malakal.”
Activists cry foul
Edmund Yakani, executive director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, said his group is highly concerned and disturbed by recent reports coming from several officials that the civilian population may risk starvation after river transport was closed by the government.
“If there is any security concern associated with the river transport for the government, let the government design another approach to deal with it without compromising with the normal flow of the humanitarian access to Upper Nile state,” Yakani said.
“I believe the president acknowledges the need to protect the civilian populations from any form of risk to their lives, but now stopping the river transport which is the only means of supplying food to Upper Nile state is a great challenge and it raise concerns to the protection of the lives of the civilians from risk of starvation,” he said.
Machar too criticises the move
South Sudanese rebel group SPLM/A-IO has condemned measures taken by the South Sudanese government to restrict humanitarian access in South Sudan.
In a press statement, the spokesman of the rebel chairman Riek Machar, James Gatdet Dak, accused President Salva Kiir of an “undeclared policy of genocide against populations in the three states of greater Upper Nile region.”
“The regime is starving these populations as another weapon of war to kill thousands more. The pretext that our forces have been attacking barges which had been carrying relief assistance is false,” he wrote.
Gatdet further accused the government of preparing further attacks on rebel-held areas Panyijar and Phom Al Zeraf.