WASHINGTON — A political deadlock in Sudan is blocking food deliveries to starving Sudanese, Reagan Administration officials said Friday, as relief agencies raised to more than 3 million their estimates of those suffering from severe food shortages in the African nation.
A State Department official said that a key overland freight route through Uganda, once a fairly secure method of shipping food to the Sudanese regional capital of Juba, has been cut because of civil strife in Uganda.
At the same time, rebel forces controlling rural areas in Sudan's southern region have refused bids for a "food truce," preventing aid distributions in their territory and threatening air shipments to government-controlled cities.
"It's beginning to look like another Ethiopia" in southern Sudan, said Richard Keil, press spokesman for World Hunger Year, an information agency on world famine problems.
Relief Workers Leaving
Many foreign relief workers are fleeing the country because of rebel warnings that cities will be the rebels' next target and that foreigners will not be protected.
Food has been shipped by relief agencies into Sudan for the last decade to alleviate the effects of drought, but supplies have diminished as fighting between rebel forces and the Khartoum government has intensified in the last two years, disrupting agricultural production and threatening aid routes.
Last weekend, the Ugandan government closed its border with Sudan, cutting the major route by which supplies have been hauled by truck from Nairobi, Kenya, to the afflicted areas. The Ugandan government is attempting to stem raids into Uganda by Sudan-based Ugandan rebels and probably will not consider reopening the border in the near future, said the State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Air deliveries to southern Sudanese cities have been suspended since the Aug. 16 downing of a Sudan Airways airliner by rebels near the airport at Malakal, 400 miles south of Khartoum, killing all 60 aboard.
Seek to Control Relief
In rejecting requests from the United Nations and relief agencies that a "food truce" be declared to allow food deliveries to resume, rebel leaders have insisted that all relief supplies be turned over to them for distribution, U.S. government officials said.
"We couldn't be put in the position of cooperating with a rebel army," the State Department official said. "We'll just have to continue to look for windows of opportunity."
Relief agency officials contend that in the past, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army has given donated food to its soldiers first, giving civilians only what might be left.
The State Department official said that the U.S. government and relief agencies are searching for other possible aid routes into the stricken region.
But at this time, they are in a quandary. "We don't want to see a repeat of Ethiopia, but the Sudan at the best of times is not too good," said Beth Griffin, a New York spokesman for Catholic Relief Services. "Even when there is food in one part of the country, you can't get it to the rest. Moving food there is like trying to move something from New York to Chicago, with the road ending at Harrisburg."
Scarce by Mid-September
Relief agency spokesmen said they believe there are adequate food supplies in Port Sudan, the government-controlled Red Sea port, and in the capital Khartoum, but that supplies will become very scarce in many cities by mid-September.
Suffering the most are residents of smaller cities in the rebel-controlled south, they said.
Last month, before the latest setbacks, relief agency officials had estimated at 2 million those suffering from famine in the country.
The recent departure of many relief agency officials from the country in the wake of rebel warnings of future urban attacks virtually eliminates a relief force that already was small.
Catholic Relief Services, the world's largest private relief agency, ended a Khartoum-based food program for Sudan two years ago because of prohibitive distribution costs and elected to work with local organizations.