KHARTOUM The United Nations has made progress in talks with Sudan to deliver more aid to South Kordofan, a border state where hundreds of thousands of people have fled fighting, a top U.N. official said in an interview.
Clashes broke out between Sudan's armed forces and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan last June, then spread to Blue Nile state in September. Both areas border newly-independent South Sudan.
The fighting has displaced more than 410,000 people in both states, more than 100,000 of them to South Sudan, according to the United Nations.
Sudan has given only limited access to the United Nations and foreign aid agencies since the fighting started, prompting the United States and activists to warn of a looming famine. Sudan denies this, saying it is delivering food in both states.
John Ging, head of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said some of his international staff had now returned to South Kordofan and this was helping relief efforts.
"I am pleased that again progress has been made to find a way to regain access for international humanitarian staff," he told Reuters after visiting South Kordofan for the first time since the outbreak of violence.
"At the moment they are based in (state capital) Kadugli. There is a limited number," he said, adding that the world body hoped more international staff would return to both states.
He said the United Nations wanted more access to South Kordofan but that it was now reaching most areas through national aid groups such as Sudan's Red Crescent society.
"HUGE AMOUNT OF WORK"
"Having international staff is very important ... but I don't want anyone to have a misunderstanding that it's only about international staff, when in fact the lion's share of the work here and everywhere around the world is done by national staff," he said.
"We are not restricted in our capacity to reach people just through U.N. internationally staffed agencies. We have a humanitarian capacity way beyond that," he said, adding that he had seen people during his trip receiving aid from the U.N. World Food Programme.
Ging declined to say how many people were in need of food assistance, saying an assessment needed to be completed first.
"There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done. There is a lot of work going on to address those needs. We want to continue with a response that is based on empirical data."
Blue Nile and South Kordofan are home to tens of thousands of fighters who sided with the south during a decades-long civil war and who say they have continued to face persecution inside Sudan since South Sudan seceded in July.
The SPLM is now the ruling party in the independent south, and denies Khartoum's charges that it is supporting SPLM-North rebels across the border.
SPLM-North is one of a number of rebel movements in the volatile border areas who say they are fighting to overthrow Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and end what they see as the dominance of the Khartoum political elite.
Sudan and South Sudan have yet to resolve a range of issues including the division of oil revenues and debt, the exact position of the shared border and control of the disputed Abyei territory. The two sides regularly exchange accusations that the other is backing rebels on either side of the boundary.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Mark Heinrich)