The deteriorating security situation in some parts of Southern Sudan is preventing the return of refugees from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
Last week, coordinated violent protests organized by war veterans from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), who have not been paid their benefits for five months, paralyzed some towns in the Central and Eastern Equatoria region and disrupted lives for several days.
The veterans lifted their blockade in the town of Yei, after meeting with Southern Sudanese President Silva Kiir, from March 19to 20, but the protests continue in Kapoeta, whose town centre is still occupied, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.
These disturbances have impeded the movement of refugees and aid workers, forcing UNHCR to temporarily postpone or stop five repatriation convoys carrying nearly 1,000 returnees from Uganda.
In February, the agency suspended the repatriation of refugees from Ethiopia due to clashes between the SPLA and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Malakal that left over 50 people dead and leading to widespread looting of UN warehouses and the subsequent relocation of relief workers.
"UNHCR is also deeply concerned about the continuing conflict between the Nuer and Murle ethnic groups in the Jonglei region that has so far claimed the lives of some 750 people and caused significant displacement," Redmond said, referring to the fighting sparked by cattle rustling raids.
The Governor of the Jonglei region held an emergency meeting with UN agencies last week to determine how to assist victims of these clashes.
Nearly 155,000 Sudanese refugees have returned voluntarily to South Sudan and Blue Nile State with UNHCR's help since December 2005. A further 157,000 refugees have also repatriated from neighbouring countries since the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of north-south civil war in Sudan.