AP: UN docs: S.Sudan asks UN to avoid battle areas

The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 11:12 AM

JUBA, Sudan -- Scores of villagers have died in recent fighting in Southern Sudan despite the presence of 10,000 U.N. troops mandated with protecting civilians.

Now, internal documents say U.N. officials have ordered the peacekeepers not to operate in an area where civilians are at risk in upcoming battles, after being asked to avoid the region by the south's military.

Last month rebel troops attacked the town of Phom el-Zeraf over two days. Women and children ran for their lives - straight into a river, where many drowned or were shot to death. Some 240 people - mostly civilians - were killed.

Several hundred U.N. forces are stationed a 90-minute boat ride from Phom el-Zeraf. But no U.N. forces responded until five days later.

A month later, the south's Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army has launched a campaign to stamp out an intractable rebel movement in the southern state of Jonglei, according to internal U.N. documents seen by The Associated Press this week.

The southern military has told the U.N. that more civilians could be put in harm's way because of the military campaign, but according to internal U.N. security reports, the U.N. mission has agreed to follow a request from the southern military to suspend operations in the contested area inside Jonglei.

In one of the U.N. reports, dated March 7, southern army deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Wilson Deng met on March 3 with the U.N. official responsible for activities in the area of the fighting to discuss the operations against rebel leader George Athor.

Deng warned that the operations will likely result in "large displacements and collateral damages" and requested U.N. support to evacuate casualties in the wake of the operations.

The southern army official then "demanded" - according to the U.N. report - that the U.N. temporarily suspend all its operations in the areas. Based largely on this information, the U.N. document noted, the U.N. declared the areas specified by the army commander as "no-go zones" for the U.N. In practice, that means independent aid groups will likely make the areas no-go zones as well.

The U.N. also declared a no-fly zone over the territory, meaning aid groups are likely to follow suit.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the south denied that his mission followed orders when faced with the army's demands.

"We didn't declare a no-go zone. What the military did say is that this should be a no-fly zone area," David Gressly said in an interview Friday. "That doesn't mean that we accepted that. There's a difference."

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