Three Aid Workers Killed

By Nhial Bol
June 10 (IPS)

Three Sudanese aid workers have been killed in a shooting incident in the Nuba Mountains region, western Sudan, the office of the United Nations Coordinator for Emergency and Relief Operations in Sudan reported on Wednesday.

Two of those killed, according to a statement from the Emergency and Relief Operations office, worked for the World Food Programme (WFP), while the third was a staff member of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS). Three others, also of the SRCS, were injured in the incident.

''The United Nations expresses its condemnation of this brutal attack against humanitarian personnel...,'' the statement said.

The incident occurred earlier this week while United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations working with Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) were conducting an assessment of humanitarian needs in Sudanese villages in the area, and a WFP registration and food distribution exercise.

According to the release, the group was in a WFP vehicle which was shot at while moving. The attackers' identity is unknown.

UN agencies in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum have released statements condemning the attack and have called on the international community to investigate the incident. According to a UN official here, the organisation also will conduct its own investigation.

While the Sudanese government has blamed the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) for the attack, UN officials told IPS that the shooting occurred in government-held areas and they have no evidence that the rebels shot at the WFP vehicle.

The State Minister in the Ministry of Social Planning, Hassan Dawai, said the vehicle was attacked by the rebel fighters in the area in order to discourage ongoing relief operations.

The Nuba Mountain area has been one of the regions where relief agencies have been denied access since the war between the SPLA and the Islamic government broke out in 1983.

In April, the government gave the go ahead for UN agencies to go into the area for the first time to assess humanitarian needs. The three killed were part of the first team to visit the area after the government gave its nod of approval.

The WFP also began on Jun. 6 new relief operations from the town of El Obeid, northern Sudan, to airdrop food to people in the rebel-controlled areas in the Bahr el Ghazal region where thousands of people face starvation.

El Obeid, a government town, is relatively close to the Bahr el Ghazal region, making air transport less expensive.

Bahr el Ghazal has been the scene of fierce fighting between government forces and the SPLA rebels in the past few months. The SPLA is fighting for self-determination for southern Sudan where 35 percent of the country's 30 million people live.

The WFP is targetting some 2.2 million people for food assistance, of which 1.7 million live in both the government and rebel-held areas of southern Sudan.