Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Sunday, 14 June 2009 10:10 UK

Sudan gunmen attack food barges

Refugees in the town of Akobo
Refugees rely on the UN's food aid

Armed men have attacked UN barges carrying food aid in South Sudan, with unconfirmed reports of casualties, UN officials have said.

Gunmen from the Jikany Nuer ethnic group attacked the 27 boats near the town of Nasir, near Sudan's eastern border with Ethiopia, on Friday.

The barges were travelling to the town of Akobo when they were attacked and 16 have returned to Nasir, the UN said.

Locals said several people had been killed, the AFP news agency reported.

'Many wounded'

"We don't have information on how many people were killed or injured. But everyone we have talked to has described it as an attack," Michelle Iseminger of the UN's World Food Programme said.

The boats had been travelling on the Sobat tributary, part of the White Nile river system.

The boats had been carrying sorghum and other food aid to refugees who had fled ethnic in South Sudan.

Map showing Nasir location

"There are many wounded in the hospital including soldiers, and many killed, there are dozens dead," said an unnamed Nasir resident quoted by AFP.

The boats had included an escort of soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army - the former rebel group which now governs the area.

The river, which is the only way to deliver aid to the poorly-developed south of the country, was closed earlier this year because of tensions in the area.

A 22-year war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south ended in 2005.

But correspondents say tension remains and many fear renewed fighting ahead of a referendum on the south's potential full independence due in 2011.

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