Highly vulnerable people have just become even more vulnerable

Protracted fighting in South Sudan could result in a humanitarian catastrophe, international agencies warned, as peace talks in the Ethiopian capital failed to quell internecine hostilities that have plunged the world’s youngest nation into crisis.

“Highly vulnerable people have just become even more vulnerable,” said the head of Medecins Sans Frontier in South Sudan, Raphael Gorgeu, in a statement. “There is a high risk of epidemics... and if the fighting prevents us from gaining rapid and safe access to people, conditions will quickly deteriorate.”

Approximately two lakh people have been displaced thus far, a number that the U.N. warns could double to four lakh if the fighting continues. More than 1000 people have been killed since South Sudan President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar of attempting to overthrow the government. Mr. Kiir’s government has since imprisoned 11 politicians including Mr. Machar, even as militias loyal to the opposing factions have clashed repeatedly.

On Tuesday, the South Sudan government told AFP they were hours away from capturing the key town of Bor, a claim denied by the rebels, even as negotiators in Addis Ababa pushed for a ceasefire.

India has significant economic interests in Sudan and South Sudan. State-owned ONGC Videsh (OVL), a subsidiary of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Petronas, of Malaysia, are the primary players in South Sudan’s oil sector.

OVL has also financed and constructed a 741 km pipeline from the Khartoum refinery in Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

An Indian delegation is currently in Juba, assessing the situation on the ground. A contingent of 2,200 Indian Army Personnel are currently deployed as peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

On Monday, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said the two countries were considering deploying a mixed North-South force to protect the oil installations vital to the economies of the two neighbours.

“The resupply of the UNMISS Bor base is becoming a critical issue. Medical capacity continues to be severely overstretched,” UNMISS said in a statement, “Preparations are under way for the deployment of new troops battalions and additional police personnel in the coming days.”

In Addis Ababa on Tuesday, talks continued between the warring factions to arrive at a ceasefire and negotiate the release of the 11 detained politicians.

Chief negotiator for the rebels, Taban Deng, told the BBC he was confident of a complete reconciliation with the government, while government Information Minister Michel Makuel said his government was determined to end the conflict.

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