Juba: South Sudan`s army has lifted a more than a month-long aid blockade into rebel areas, the UN said Friday, warning of a "dire situation" as fighting continues despite ongoing peace talks.
The blockade since late June of aid barges on the Nile river into the northeastern battleground state of Upper Nile, as well as a ban on food flights into the state capital Malakal, had badly hit areas already on the brink of famine.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a 20-month civil war that has been marked by widespread atrocities on both sides.
"Restrictions on the movement of barges on the River Nile, as well as clearances to use the Malakal airstrip, which had affected the delivery of life-saving assistance to vulnerable people in Malakal in Upper Nile state, have been lifted," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report Friday.
"The lifting of the restrictions has allowed humanitarian partners to start resupplying critical medicines, fuel, food and water treatment chemicals."The government repeatedly denied the blockade, but rebels said it was aimed to starve them into submission.
The UN said no river barges and flights had arrived in Upper Nile since the end of June, apart from "minimal supplies" via helicopter directly into the UN base in Malakal.
The Nile is the main route for aid into the largely roadless northern areas, including areas under rebel control.
"As fighting continues, humanitarian needs are higher than ever," the UN report added. "Partners are working to ensure supplies continue to be delivered to Upper Nile to avert a further deterioration of the already dire situation."
Peace talks restarted last week in neighbouring Ethiopia, but have made little if any progress, delegates say.
South Sudan`s civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
Mediators say Kiir and Machar are now due to meet in a bid to stave off sanction threats before the deadline expires on Monday.Diplomats say the rivals are under intense pressure to sign a deal, since failure to do so could lead to a range of punitive measures, including a possible arms embargo and travel bans.
But they remain far apart on power sharing and security, Information Minister Michael Makuei has said. Makuei also warned that recent splits within the rebel army would further complicate negotiations.
The war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. According to the UN children`s agency, recent attacks have included castration, rape and tying children together before slitting their throats.
UN aid chief Stephen O`Brien, who visited South Sudan last month, said he was horrified at reports of "horrendous atrocities" including girls being "beaten, raped and set on fire", the UN report said Friday.
Over 70 percent of the country`s 12 million people need assistance, the UN says, which is also combating a cholera outbreak that has killed 43 people.
The war has forced 2.2 million people to flee their homes, with over 600,000 of those now refugees in the neighbouring nations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
More than 185,000 civilians are crammed into UN peacekeeping bases, including in Malakal, which has seen a influx this month of 10,000 people, taking the total there to over 46,500.
"Relief agencies are racing to cope with the influx as the rainy season creates increasingly desperate living conditions," the UN added.