NAIROBI, Kenya -- As concern grows about the plight of civilians cut off from food and medicine in war-ravaged southern Sudan, a senior United Nations official said yesterday that he had won agreement from both sides in the civil war for relief flights to 20 places in the region.
Jan Eliasson said that government officials and rebel representatives had promised not to interfere with flights of food, medicine and other relief supplies into 9 rebel-held towns and 11 government-held towns, including the regional centers of Malakal and Wau.
But Mr. Eliasson made it clear that he had not been able to obtain safe passage for flights into Juba, the largest city in the south, which is held by the government but under siege from a faction of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.
Mr. Eliasson also said he had not been able to reach final agreements to open overland routes into the region. Trucks can carry a far more adequate volume of supplies than can aircraft.
Mr. Eliasson, who obtained a 24-hour cease-fire from the rebels in order to visit Juba Wednesday, said that several hundred thousand people were stranded and that many were without shelter.
Relief officials say they are concerned about the condition of more than 1 million people, many of them nomadic herders, who have been displaced by the fighting in the last six months.
Those displaced joined probably another 2 million who have been dislocated in the south since the civil war started in 1983.
The Sudanese government has been ruthless in practicing scorched-earth policies in the towns they capture, sending civilians empty-handed into the countryside, relief officials say.
Those people are not necessarily in favor of the rebels either, and remain invisible, because of the lack of access allowed relief agencies in the vast region of southern Sudan.
The Red Cross, which has run a substantial relief operation in Sudan for the last several years, has been banned by the government from flying into southern Sudan since February and from trucking supplies since May.