Nuba assessment mission to start next week

20 December (IRIN)

A US-proposed mission to assess humanitarian needs for people living in the Nuba (Nubah) Mountains region of Southern Darfur, south-central Sudan, is expected to begin next week, the Al-Ayyam newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The mission would cover all government-controlled and rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains, and would include appraisals of food, health, and education needs, Sulaf al-Din Salih, commissioner-general of the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

During meetings from 6 to 13 December with a US technical team led by Roger Winter, director of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) agreed on the "immediate dispatch" of a relief and rehabilitation assessment mission to the Nuba Mountains, according to a statement from the US government.

The team - following up on the November mission to Sudan of the American peace envoy, John Danforth - had also enabled the SPLM/A and the Sudanese government to agree to negotiate an internationally monitored permanent cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains.

Until the exact terms of such a cease-fire had been agreed, both sides had undertaken to observe and extend the current military stand-down in the Nuba Mountains, the US government said on 14 December.

"The United States believes that strict adherence to the military stand-down will be essential to the success of efforts in the Nuba Mountains region," the statement said.

An initial four-week period of tranquillity in the Nuba Mountains - which expired on 9 December - had been negotiated by Danforth during his November mission, and had allowed the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver over 2,000 mt of urgently needed emergency food aid to the Nuba people.

The findings of the assessment mission are expected to form the basis of a relief and rehabilitation programme for the Nuba Mountains region.

"The United States Agency for International Development [USAID] and the United Nations will meet separately with the government and the SPLM/Nuba to negotiate and develop a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation programme for all civilians in the Nuba Mountains region, based on the findings of the assessment mission," the US statement said.

During meetings with the US technical team, SPLM/A and government representatives also agreed to implement additional military stand-downs in selected areas to allow implementation of a US-proposed institutive to eradicate polio.

In addition, the two sides made a "firm commitment" to avoid all bombardment of humanitarian targets, and to support a US-led investigation into the means of preventing slavery and forced abduction in Sudan, the US statement said.

Meanwhile, preliminary results of an HAC mission to assess food needs in both north and south Sudan for 2002 indicated an improvement when compared with the previous year, Al Ra'y al-Amm reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper quoted a senior HAC official as saying the food gap for the coming year was "not alarming" and could be "bridged by the government through available resources".