An armed group looted warehouses in North Darfur last week, stealing 5,000 metric tons of food in a "tremendous setback" to one of the world's poorest countries, World Food Programme says.

The UN food agency’s move to halt work comes at a difficult time for the poverty-struck African nation currently witnessing deadly protests against military rule.
The UN food agency’s move to halt work comes at a difficult time for the poverty-struck African nation currently witnessing deadly protests against military rule. (Reuters)

The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended its operations across Sudan's province of North Darfur following recent attacks on its warehouses, a decision expected to affect about two million local people.

A statement released by the UN food agency on Thursday said all three of its warehouses in the area were attacked and looted. More than 5,000 metric tonnes of food were stolen, the group said.

Earlier in the week, the WFP said an unidentified armed group had attacked one of its warehouses in North Darfur's provincial capital of el Fasher. In response, local authorities imposed a curfew across the province.

However, the attacks continued until early Thursday, said the statement. Hundreds of looters have also dismantled warehouse structures, the WFP added.

“This theft has robbed nearly two million people of the food and nutrition support they so desperately need," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. 

"Not only is this a tremendous setback to our operations across the country, but it endangers our staff and jeopardises our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families.”

The agency said it cannot divert assistance from other parts of the East African country to the looted warehouses without compromising the needs of vulnerable Sudanese living outside the province.

READ MORE: Gunmen loot UN food agency warehouse in Sudan's Darfur

Suspects arrested

Sudan is one of the poorest counties in the world, with nearly 11 million people in need of food security and livelihood assistance in 2022, said the WFP.

The agency urged Sudanese authorities to recover the looted stocks and guarantee the security and safety of the WFP operations in North Darfur.

On Thursday, the country’s state-run news agency reported that a number of suspects were arrested in el Fasher after they were seen riding trucks and animal-drawn carts loaded with food stocks that were allegedly stolen from the WFP warehouses. SUNA news agency did not say how many were arrested.

The WFP decision comes in the midst of political upheaval that followed the October military coup. On Thursday, four people were killed in anti-coup protests when security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters, said a doctors' group.

READ MORE: Thousands march across Sudan for civilian rule despite tight security

Source: AP