Juba — At least 55 major humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in South Sudan have welcomed the recent ceasefire between the country's warring parties, but expressed their deep concern about the current humanitarian situation in the new nation.
The entities, in a strongly-worded statement, also reaffirmed their commitment to help all civilians in need of assistance following the violent outbreak that shocked the new nation late last year.
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital in mid-December last year and later spread to other parts of the country, leaving over 1,000 people dead and more than half a million homeless, United Nations estimates show.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir blamed his former vice-president Riek Machar for an alleged coup attempt, which saw the arrest and detention of at least 13 senior figures, two of whom have been released by the government.
The 55 NGOs, in the statement, said they were deeply alarmed at the scale of human suffering seen in the country in the past six weeks, and welcomed the recent signing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia of a cessation of hostilities agreement between the Government of South Sudan and the opposition forces.
The deal, they argued, could lead to a swift reduction in the suffering of civilians, but called on both parties in the conflict to protect civilians, to refrain from targeting attacks on civilian areas, and to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
The various entities also cited neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanitarian operative as the core principles of their humanitarian operations.
"The humanitarian imperative means that we seek to provide assistance to any civilians who may need it", said Wendy Taeuber, country director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Collectively, we want to be able to help all people in need, wherever they may be located in South Sudan and regardless of who is controlling that area, she added.
The different NGOs, however, emphasized that in order to be able to provide assistance to those who need it, it is essential that all actors recognise their independence, and ensure respect and protection for their staff, assets, facilities and humanitarian activities.
"We call upon all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded humanitarian access and to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of our staff," said Caroline Boyd, Medair's country director.
Allan Paul, the country director save the children said, "Violence against aid-workers is always unacceptable".
"And any restrictions on the movements or activities of NGOs simply hinder us from providing vital assistance to those South Sudanese who need it most", he added.
At least the South Sudanese aid workers were reportedly killed and many more wounded or were still missing since violence broke out in the country on 15 December.