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Flights Under Way to War-Torn Southern Region : Food Airlift Too Late for Many in Sudan

Associated Press

Planes carried food supplies to starving Sudanese refugees Sunday, but a relief official said it will take at least two weeks to reduce deaths and help emaciated people so weak they can’t protect the corpses of loved ones from scavenging hyenas.

Another relief official said the $1-million, 10-day airlift to the war-ravaged south, which began last Thursday, comes too late to save thousands of younger children.

Twin-engine Cessnas are carrying 90 tons of food to about 40,000 southerners facing starvation in Abyei, 500 miles southwest of Khartoum. They are hoping to provide stopgap relief for those who left behind their crops and cattle to escape a civil war in the region.

A Western relief official said it will take two to three weeks before the impact of the U.S.-financed supply mission can be felt. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said eight to 10 people are dying every day, weakened by malnutrition, lack of medical treatment and a long trek to refugee camps.

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An estimated 80 people a day died in the area’s refugee camps in July and August, the worst months in a summer that some relief officials say took up to 10,000 lives. They said most were elderly or young children.

Many Children Died Earlier

Brian Wannop, a representative of the U.N. Development Program in Khartoum, said a possible explanation for the lower death rate is that all of the younger children had already died during the difficult summer months.

According to Wannop, officials visiting Abyei in the past few days said the emaciated southerners are too weak to prevent scavenging hyenas from dragging away the bodies of relatives at night.

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The Sudanese Red Crescent says Abyei’s population of 10,000 has been swollen to 40,000 by refugees.

Just beyond the reach of the fighting, Abyei has become the target of the U.S.-financed airlift.

But Western relief officials say the effort is tiny compared to the extent of devastation facing hundreds of thousands of others in less accessible areas.

2 Million Refugees

Wannop said that in the last five years of the civil war, about 2 million southerners fled their homes to camps and shantytowns in southeastern Ethiopia, central and western Sudan and around the capital of Khartoum.

Wannop said 150,000 people fled to the western region of Darfur and south Kordofan, where Abyei is located.

Sudanese officials say the Western agencies are exaggerating the number of refugees and that the government has drawn up a plan to supply relief to about 224,000 southerners.

“The people affected by the famine and starvation are moving northward,” said Haj Tayeb, Sudan’s acting commissioner for relief and rehabilitation. “We reached some of them and gave them aid.”

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The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, fighting for economic and political reforms since 1983, claims to control 90% of the southern countryside.


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