MSF Evacuated From Five of Ten Locations in Bahr El Ghazal, Southern Sudan

Nairobi, February 12, 1999 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been evacuated from five of the ten locations in which it works in Bahr el Ghazal province and one location in Jonglei province, southern Sudan, due to insecurity. Since January 15, when the cease fire in Bahr el Ghazal was renewed for a further three months, MSF international staff have been forced to leave their locations at least 12 times due to insecurity.

On February 9, 1999, MSF teams in the villages of Panthou and Ajak observed civilians fleeing these locations in fright, with no baggage. Reports from civilians on the ground suggested that pro-Sudanese Government horseback militia were in the area. The MSF team from Panthou walked for three hours to the village of Tieraliet before they were evacuated with the Tieraliet team. The MSF team from Ajak walked for five hours across rivers and swamps to the nearest airstrip for evacuation. A total of 16 MSF staff members from the three locations were evacuated by Operation Lifeline Sudan.

On January, 28, 1999, pro-Sudanese Government militia raided Bararud, a village in Bahr el Ghazal. A local MSF staff member, Akot, who was a well digger for the program, was one of the ten civilians killed in the attack. Local witnesses claim that 60 militia on horseback raided the village and the MSF nutritional and health structures. MSF was treating 35 children in an intensive feeding program and providing 450 children with supplementary nutritional assistance. MSF's structures were completely looted of medical supplies, medical material, and food. Witnesses state that women and children, many of whom are feared to have been patients in the MSF facilities, and MSF local staff, were abducted in the raid and used as porters by the militia to carry the looted goods. Witnesses also state that the population of Bararud was halved after the raid.

"We are very concerned about the vulnerable population in the locations where we do not have access due to insecurity," said Francois Fille, MSF head of mission. "There are still enormous humanitarian needs and the population is in a fragile state--they need consistent assistance. Over the last nine months, millions of dollars worth of assistance has been poured into southern Sudan, first to stop the famine and now to prevent another one. Humanitarian assistance cannot work in a political vacuum."

Current MSF programs in Bahr el Ghazal with international staff are operating in Achumchum, Ajiep, Mapel,Thiek Thou, and Wau. All other locations in Bahr el Ghazal are currently under assessment for security and are being operated by the local staff. MSF also has programs in Lankien (Upper Nile province), Ibba, Kajo Keji (Western Equatoria), Panyagor (Jonglei), Marial Lou, Nabagok, Paliang, Akop, Makwach (Lakes), Khartoum, Meiram, Dilling, Darfur State, and Gedaref State. MSF has been working in northern and southern Sudan for more than 10 years.