UN food agency puts hold on Sudan aid operations, following death of 3 staff in unrest

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UNITED NATIONS : The World Food Programme (WFP), a Rome-based UN agency, Sunday temporarily halted all operations, as a result of the fighting between rival military groups in Sudan, which led to the deaths of three WFP employees on Saturday.

According to a statement attributable to WFP’s Executive Director, Cindy McCain, the workers were carrying out life-saving duties in Kabkabiya, North Darfur.

In a separate incident on Saturday, a WFP-managed UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) aircraft was significantly damaged at Khartoum International Airport during an exchange of gunfire, seriously impacting WFP’s ability to move humanitarian workers and aid within the country.

In the statement, Ms. McCain explained that all operations in Sudan have been suspended, pending a review of the evolving security situation.

“WFP is committed to assisting the Sudanese people facing dire food insecurity,” said Ms. McCain, “but we cannot do our lifesaving work if the safety and security of our teams and partners are not guaranteed. All parties must come to an agreement that ensures the safety of humanitarian workers on the ground and enables the continued delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan. They remain our top priority.”

Ms. McCain emphasized that threats to WFP teams make it impossible for them to operate safely and effectively in the country and carry out the UN agency’s critical work.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission (UNITAMS) Volker Perthes strongly condemned the attacks on Sunday, and insisted that civilians and humanitarian aid workers are “not a target.”

Perthes referred to reports of projectiles hitting UN and other humanitarian premises, and of looting at these premises, in several locations in Darfur.

The UNITAMS chief said that these acts of violence disrupt the delivery of life-saving assistance, and must end. “When incidents like this occur, it is women, men, and children in desperate need of assistance who suffer the most.”

Perthes announced on Sunday that he had convinced the two warring parties to the current fighting to briefly pause hostilities, on humanitarian grounds, between four and seven PM, local time.

The members of the Security Council added their voices to the calls for an end to hostilities on Sunday, in a statement expressing their regret for the loss of lives and injuries.

In the statement, they urged the parties to restore calm and return to dialogue to resolve the current crisis in Sudan.

They went on to stress the importance that humanitarian access is maintained and the safety of UN personnel is ensured and reaffirmed their “strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sudan.”