Sudan: UN leader warns Sudan on expulsion of aid groups

March 6, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Africa | Leave a comment
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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned yesterday that the Sudanese government’s order to expel foreign aid organizations in Darfur would “cause irrevocable damage to the humanitarian operations there,” according to Ban’s spokeswoman, Michele Montas.

The expulsion order Wednesday followed a decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on war crimes charges.

At least 10 foreign aid groups have been targeted, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and CARE International.

They collectively handle 60 percent of humanitarian assistance in Darfur, where the largest relief effort in the world has reversed a dangerous rise in the level of malnutrition and disease among displaced people stranded in camps. Some groups were given 24 hours to leave; others were told that the safety of their staffs could no longer be guaranteed.

Ban appealed to Sudan to “urgently reconsider” its action, noting that these agencies are “key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur,” she said.

Montas said Ban is also concerned about the safety of local and foreign aid workers, adding that the confiscation of equipment, money, and other materials is unacceptable and must end immediately.

The British branch of the aid agency Oxfam International said in a statement yesterday that it has begun to relocate international staff to Khartoum and is appealing Sudan’s decision to revoke its operating license.

Sudanese authorities seized the agency’s laptops and communications equipment, undercutting its ability to respond to the needs of more than 600,000 civilians in Darfur and other parts of Sudan.

Oxfam, which has operated in Sudan since 1983, said that its local employees could continue to distribute its supply of clean water and other essentials for a number of weeks. But its operations would have to close after that if the government doesn’t reverse its decision.

The agency said that it had no relationship with the International Criminal Court and that its “sole focus is meeting humanitarian and development needs.”

In the weeks leading up to the ICC’s action, aid workers say that Sudanese authorities had grown increasingly paranoid about the prospect of aid workers handing over information on potential crimes to the international court.

Bashir told his Cabinet yesterday that the tribunal, the United Nations and international organizations operating in Sudan were “tools of the new colonialism,” wire services reported, and he vowed to act against anyone who “tries to get at the stability” of his country.

The expulsions were part of the Sudanese government’s dismissive response to charges that Bashir used the instruments of state to direct the mass murder of tens of thousands of Sudanese civilians in Darfur during the past six years.

He is the first sitting head of state to be charged by the Hague-based court.

On Tuesday, Bashir said the court could “eat” its arrest warrant. Within minutes of its announcement Wednesday, hundreds of people poured into the streets of Khartoum in a protest that was probably orchestrated by a government that exerts tight control over the city.

The Khartoum offices of several Sudanese human rights groups were raided, and Bashir, who enjoys support from many African leaders concerned about their own rights records, appeared at a march yesterday.

Though the government provided little explanation for why the groups were asked to leave, several aid workers said they were accused of providing evidence to the court.

The expulsions mean that clinics will close, water pumps will go unrepaired, sanitation will degenerate – bringing cholera and other diseases – and, in some cases, food rations will not be distributed

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