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Deadline extended for S. Sudanese: Khartoum media

A Southern Sudanese woman shows herplane ticket home as she waits for her travel documents (© 2009 AFP)

Sudanese officials on Wednesday extended the expulsion deadline for thousands of ethnic South Sudanese encamped south of Khartoum, official media reported.

The decision came in a meeting between Yusuf al-Shambali, the governor of White Nile state, and Social Welfare Minister Amira al-Fadel Mohammed.

“They agreed to extend the deadline to May 20, 2012,” said the SUNA news agency.

The previous deadline was publicly announced only last Sunday in a SUNA dispatch and gave the 12,000-15,000 South Sudanese until next Saturday to leave the way-station of Kosti, south of the capital Khartoum.

“The presence of Southerners in Kosti threatens the security and the environment for Kosti citizens,” SUNA reported at the time, in a move that sparked concern from the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has helped to return thousands of South Sudanese.

Under the new plan, SUNA said the Southerners “will be transferred to Renk in partnership with the UN and IOM.”

Renk is a South Sudanese border town which has received large numbers of newly arrived South Sudanese from the north.

Some Southerners have been living in Kosti for months, in makeshift shelters or barn-like buildings, while they await their journey by barge down the White Nile River to South Sudan.

The South Sudanese embassy estimates about 350,000 ethnic Southerners remain in the north after an April 8 deadline for them to either formalise their status or leave Sudan.

The IOM had called on Tuesday for Khartoum to grant more time for those in Kosti “to move to South Sudan in safety and dignity.”

It said they are all dependent on assistance from the international community for food, water, health care and other essential services and most do not have their own means to arrange transportation.

“They cannot be left to fend for themselves, and the international community does not have the logistical capacity to move them all out of Kosti by the 5th May deadline,” IOM said.

Before the deadline announcement, South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said on Wednesday that Sudan has blocked aid agencies from giving the returnees food.

“These people can actually lose their lives, our concern is that these people might actually be killed, as the government of Sudan is not caring for them anymore,” said Benjamin.

However, Jill Helke, who heads the IOM mission in Sudan, said the UN’s World Food Programme had just made a delivery to Kosti.

“They have food for one month,” she said.

“It is true that most of the other agencies are now out of the way-station,” she told AFP on Wednesday before finalisation of the new deadline.

Benjamin also alleged people were being prevented from getting drinking water, and that those who try to leave the camps risk arrest.

“These people have been there for nearly going to a year now with all their property. They are just waiting for barges to come,” he said.

Helke said the IOM has funding to move 7,000 people by barge to South Sudan down the White Nile River, “and we think if we get going quickly we can get the funding for the other 5,000.”

South Sudan’s ambassador in Khartoum, Kau Nak, told AFP this week that the barges still needed a “green light” from Khartoum.

“Of course, there is an element of mistrust between South and north,” he said.

A month of deadly clashes along the disputed border culminated in South Sudan’s 10-day occupation of the north’s main Heglig oil field.

Sudan declared on April 20 that its troops had forced the Southern soldiers out of Heglig, but the South said it withdrew of its own accord in line with international calls amid fears of all-out war.

Nak said Khartoum was asking for guarantees the barges will not carry military equipment on their return trips after delivering the human cargo.

He said Juba had assured its northern counterparts “that they will make sure that there will be no single bullet to be carried on those barges.”

Since last year the IOM has helped return more than 23,000 Southerners, mostly by river barge.

Signature : KHARTOUM (AFP)

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