NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) " The U.N. should urgently improve its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan to protect civilians and help deliver aid to civilians affected by the country's civil war, said 10 relief organizations working in the country.
The groups, including Oxfam, CARE, and the International Rescue Committee, issued a joint statement in South Sudan's capital, Juba, on Friday following reports by The Associated press and others that U.N. peacekeepers failed to act when government forces targeted civilians under the U.N.'s protection, including raping dozens of Nuer women.
The inability of the U.N. peacekeeping mission "to protect civilians threatens to undermine any attempts at safety and security in the country and makes it impossible for humanitarian agencies to provide the help that is so urgently needed," said Frederick McCray, CARE's director in South Sudan.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan has about 12,000 armed troops who are mandated to use lethal force if necessary to protect civilians. The mission is also mandated to help the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Some 4.8 million South Sudanese, nearly half the country's population, are facing severe food shortages, according to the World Food Program.
But armed men and others are accused of mass looting of humanitarian supplies, including food which would have fed 220,000 people for a month, following fighting in Juba earlier this month that killed hundreds of people. Restrictions on flights have also limited aid groups' ability to reach populations in need, the aid groups said.
"If security conditions deteriorate further, providing aid will become logistically impossible. Humanitarian aid has probably already prevented famine in hard-to-reach parts of South Sudan - if aid agencies cannot operate fully the consequences could be catastrophic," said Zlatko Gegic, Oxfam's South Sudan director.
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings