South Sudan denies using food as weapon of war

South Sudan on Monday denied that it was deliberately using food as weapon of war to starve thousands of people.

President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the Friday report, submitted to the UN Security Council’s South Sudan Sanctions Committee, is biased as it did not consider efforts by the government to allow improved humanitarian access in the restive northern Wau and Bahr El Ghazal regions.

“The people of South Sudan are the very people the government seeks to govern so we don’t have any policy of using food as weapon of war,” Ateny said in Juba.

The UN report said the denial of humanitarian relief had caused extreme food insecurity among large sections of the population, with malnutrition and death by starvation in the Greater Baggari area in Wau County.

Ateny said President Kiir last week directed security agencies not to obstruct humanitarian aid in conflict zones in order to allow food to reach those in need.

The government last week extended the three-month state of emergency in those regions until 2018 in the wake of deadly violence between communities and clans.

According to the updated Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released early November by the government, UN agencies, and other humanitarian partners, the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity across the country for the October-December period is likely to increase by 1.4 million from a year earlier to 4.8 million.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines.

The 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict was weakened after renewed fighting in July 2016 caused the SPLA-in opposition leader Machar to flee the country.