At least 7000 civilians, including vulnerable orphans, are going without food inside a United Nations camp in South Sudan as they shelter from the country's civil war.

The refugees at the UN base in the town of Bor receive clean water and protection from peacekeeping troops, but the security situation is so volatile that little food has been distributed - and some inside the camp have eaten nothing for days.

Among those going hungry are 163 orphans, who were taken to the compound on December 20. The children, who previously lived at an orphanage run by the Presbyterian Church, managed to bring some food with them, but those supplies soon ran out.

"We are in the UN compound for the sake of our lives," said Peter Yien Riath, the manager of the orphanage. "The UN gave us water and they gave us protection, but no food at all. We just talk to the soldiers and say, 'We have nothing to give to the children'."


On Sunday, a UN soldier gave Riath some high energy biscuits. Since then, no more food has been handed out to refugees.

These compounds are seen as the only places of safety as the civil war spreads. More than 60,000 people are now sheltering at UN bases across South Sudan. Food distributions have taken place at most, but the situation in Bor is so volatile that supplies have been unable to get through.

Rebels captured the town soon after Riek Machar, the former vice-president, began his revolt on December 15. Bor was then retaken by government forces loyal to Salva Kiir, the president, on Christmas Eve. Since then, the state capital has been threatened by armed militias drawn from Mr Machar's Nuer tribe.

Joe Contreras, a spokesman for the UN mission in South Sudan, said: "We are ready to provide protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence according to the mandate given to the mission."

Anyone without a weapon or a military uniform would receive this protection, he added.

Food was being handed out at camps in Juba, the capital, and elsewhere, but Contreras acknowledged that food distribution at Bor "had not got under way as of yesterday".