UN Teams Treat Sudanese Victims of Suspected Biochem Attack

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNS) - United Nations medical teams sent into south Sudan began checking up on locals Friday after setting up camp outside three towns whose residents have fallen seriously ill following the suspected use of chemical or biological weapons by Sudanese government forces.

Dr. Sharad Sapra of the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan told CNSNews.com from Nairobi, Kenya, that the teams would not actually enter the areas where bombs fell in recent weeks, until it became clear what was causing the symptoms.

"Our security won't allow us to go in," he said. Instead, those affected would come to the UN camps outside each of the three towns of Lainya, Kaaya and Loka.

South Sudanese rebels and Norwegian relief workers have reported that residents have been vomiting blood, pregnant women have miscarried, and small animals and birds have died in large numbers since aircraft flying at high altitudes dropped bombs on the towns on and after July 23.

The UN was alerted to the situation after three aid workers fell ill after spending just 45 minutes in Lainya, three days after bombs fell on the town.

The use of chemical and biological weapons in conflict - although not their production or possession - has been outlawed by international convention since the aftermath of World War I.

To date, only Iraq is known to have violated the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.

In the early 1990s, states began to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, which forbids the "production, stockpiling and use" of chemical weapons, and mandates their destruction.

The Sudanese government, which signed and ratified the CWC just two months ago, this week denied claims it had used non conventional weapons in the south.

Khartoum's official Al-Anba newspaper quoted Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as saying Sudan was prepared for an "impartial and credible" investigation into the allegations.

The New Vision newspaper in neighboring Uganda said the Ugandan government was concerned about the safety of its citizens and soldiers near the Sudanese border, and was awaiting the results of the UN investigations with concern.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government Thursday declared a unilateral cease-fire throughout the country, and said it hoped the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army would reciprocate.

The SPLA recently announced a cease-fire in all of the south except for the Equatoria region - where Lainya, Kaaya and Loka are located.

The UN's Sapra welcomed the announcement, saying he hoped this would facilitate aid flights into areas needing help.

More than one-and-half million Sudanese have died in fighting and famine during the 16-year civil war between the Islamist Arab government in Khartoum and Christian and animist Africans in the south.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow