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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 April, 2004, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Thousands flee new Sudan unrest
SPLA rebels
The SPLA rebels are in the final stages of peace talks with the government
The UN says at least 50,000 people have fled their homes in southern Sudan over the past month because of violence.

There have been frequent pro-government militia attacks on civilian sites and clashes between separatist rebels and government troops.

UN officials in neighbouring Kenya say villages, schools and health facilities have been burnt and looted.

The UN says as a result of the violence aid operations in the region have had to be suspended.

The latest fighting in southern Sudan, between the army and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, is separate from the inter-ethnic violence in the western region of Darfur.

The most serious fighting that has affected civilians have been from militia targeting civilian settlements
Ben Parker, UN spokesman
There pro-government Arab militia have killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

The violence that has forced the 50,000 Sudanese to flee has occurred despite a ceasefire between the warring parties and a 21-month-old peace process that is slowly proceeding towards its conclusion.

The Khartoum government and SPLA are in the final stages of talks hosted by neighbouring Kenya aimed at ending a war in which about two million people have been killed and about four million forced to move.

Disputes over oil and ethnicity have fuelled the conflict.

The UN says it has been receiving reports of violence since March.

Aid suspended

The atmosphere in the region took a turn for the worse in October 2003 when a senior local politician Lam Akol decided to rejoin the SPLA more than a decade after he broke from the organisation.

This caused a rift among his followers who did not want to merge their Sudan People's Liberation Army-United with the much larger SPLA.

"Villages have been burnt down, while looting and rapes have gone on, civilian infrastructures, including schools and clinics, have been destroyed and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) compounds in Nyilwak have also been burnt in attacks," the UN statement released in Nairobi said.

It added that the UN and NGOs, grouped under Operation Lifeline Sudan cannot access the war areas because of insecurity, a situation which has also hampered information gathering on the plight of those still in the region.

"The most serious fighting that has affected civilians have been from militia targeting civilian settlements," Ben Parker, a spokesman from the UN's Sudan office, said.

"Fighting between government troops and SPLA is a much smaller element in the conflict as far as we know."

The UN has called upon the warring factions to refrain from attacking civilians and their property.

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