CAIRO (AP) -- The World Food Program has suspended its operations across Sudan's province of North Darfur following recent attacks on its warehouses, a decision expected to affect about 2 million local people.
A statement released by the U.N. food agency Thursday said all three of its warehouses in the area were attacked and looted. More than 5,000 metric tons of food apparently 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, 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 jeopardizes 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.
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 amid political upheaval that followed the October military coup.
On Friday, a doctor's group said that five people were killed in anti-coup protests that erupted a day earlier in several provinces across the country. Security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters, the group said. With Thursday's fatalities, the total death toll since the coup has risen to 53.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese police acknowledged in a statement issued on Friday that four protesters were killed and more than 290 were wounded in the protests. The statement posted on SUNA made no mention of police using tear gas or live ammunition. The police added that more than 40 policemen were wounded in clashes with protesters.