Cease-fire in central Sudan helps polio vaccination campaign

By MOHAMED OSMAN Associated Press Writer
KADUGLI, Sudan, Mar 11, 2002 (AP)

A U.S.-brokered truce between the Sudanese government and southern rebels has made it possible for polio vaccination teams to reach about 189,000 children in south-central Sudan, a top regional official said Monday.

"This cease-fire agreement has tremendous effects here. We believe our vaccination campaign will be successful partially thanks to it," said Bashir Ibrahim, acting governor of South Kordufan state and Sudan's health minister.

The Jan. 22 truce in the Nuba mountains has opened the way for relief and rebuilding programs in the region and is part of U.S. efforts toward a broader agreement on ending the 19-year-old civil war.

The Nuba people are among the hardest hit in the war as they are squeezed between the Islamic government in the north and the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the south.

"South Kordufan was actually a source of concern for us as we were unable to reach it, but now with this peace deal in place we all hope to see this concern dissipating," said Salah Salim Haithami, director of the World Health Organization in Sudan.

South Kordufan and its regional capital, Kadugli, more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) southwest of Khartoum, were chosen to launch the anti-polio campaign, which targets more than five million children in Sudan.

The government declared Tuesday the national immunization day against polio, the highly infectious disease, caused by a virus, which mainly targets children under 5 and causes paralysis, muscle atrophy and death.

Previous efforts to vaccinate children were often disrupted by fighting.

More than 470 Sudanese health workers are taking part in the effort, Ibrahim, the health minister, said.

The rebels seek autonomy for southern Sudan and demand religious freedom for the south's animist and Christian people. Since 1983, more than 2 million people have died in fighting and related famines.

Former U.S. John Danforth has proposed a package of confidence-boosting measures beginning with a cease-fire in the Nuba mountains, a halt to aerial bombardment, the creation of "zones of tranquility" to allow the delivery of aid, and efforts to stop militia members from enslaving civilians.

Five Americans and two Norwegians visited the area last week as part of an international monitoring unit of 10-15 military and civilian personnel.