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Sudan Expels Aid Groups While Millions Thirst, Starve
NEW YORK, New York, March 9, 2009 (ENS) - The United Nation's top humanitarian official said today that the world body is striving at all levels to reverse the expulsion of 13 major aid groups from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region ordered by the Sudanese Government.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes said that at the same time UN agencies are urgently planning to cover gaps in life-saving assistance that is essential to 4.7 million Sudanese - including 2.7 million internally displaced persons.

The UN estimates that the expulsions would leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without health care and at least one million without drinking water.

Women in South Darfur (Photo by Martien von Asseldonk)

"We have been in touch with the Government of Sudan, at many levels, and indeed with many other key players over the weekend," Holmes told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, adding that the NGOs had been advised to exercise their right of appeal against the decision.

He said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been calling stakeholders and that possibilities include a conversation between him and Al-Bashir "at the right moment."

There are already concerns that a meningitis outbreak in Kalma Camp in South Darfur will spread if not addressed through immediate large-scale inoculation, he said.

Sudan's decision to begin ejecting the non-governmental organizations came on Wednesday, immediately after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

The first sitting Head of State to be indicted by the Court, Al-Bashir was indicted on two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. The Hague-based ICC's pre-trial chamber found there was insufficient evidence to charge him with genocide, but stressed that if the prosecution presents additional evidence the warrant could be amended at a later date.

President Omar al-Bashir at the New Partnership for Africa's Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. January 31, 2009. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

"He is suspected of being criminally responsible, as an indirect (co-)perpetrator, for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property," according to a press release issued by the Court.

UN officials are attempting "de-link" the humanitarian situation from discussion and debate on the indictment.

UN humanitarian agencies are warning that aid capability could be slashed by half, since the decision affected such major groups as Oxfam, Care International, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, along with some 7,000 staff out of a total of some 14,000 in the troubled region.

Holmes expressed concern at the manner in which the Sundanese Government's decision is being carried out. NGO staff members are being intimidated and property such as automobiles and computers, some of which belonged to the United Nations, has been confiscated.

Warehouses full of food supplied to the NGOs for distribution by the World Food Programme are being held, he said.

"This is not in line with the agreement the agreements we have with the Government of Sudan, nor indeed with the any of the normal tenets of behavior in these kinds of circumstances," Holmes emphasized.

"We've taken up these issues very strongly with the Government and we hope this kind of behavior will not stop, and that even if the decision itself is not reversed, which we certainly hope it will be," he said.

Neither the UN nor the Sudanese Government, he warned, has the capacity to fill all the gaps left by the departing organizations, who worked in partnership with the UN agencies on the ground.

CARE, one of the largest aid agencies in Sudan, has ceased all aid operations and is removing international staff from the country.

The NGOs say they are independent and impartial and have no links to the International Criminal Court. Their sole concern is for the people who rely on their services.

New arrivals at one of the camps for internally displaced persons around El Fasher, capital of North Darfur (Photo courtesy Oxfam)

"Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world. This will have a devastating impact on the millions of people in Sudan who rely on humanitarian assistance for food, safe drinking water, and health care," said Robert Glasser, secretary general of CARE International, headquartered in Switzerland. "CARE is extremely concerned about how the poorest, most vulnerable people of Sudan will cope as the country's largest aid agencies are forced to close their programs and this vital flow of aid is shut down."

Oxfam International's British affiliate, Oxfam GB, is appealing the Sudanese government's decision to revoke its registration to work in the north of the country. The Oxfam GB emergency program in Sudan has 450 staff, 90 percent of whom are Sudanese. If Oxfam GB's registration is revoked, the organization says it will affect more than 600,000 Sudanese people who are dependent daily on vital humanitarian and development aid, including clean water and sanitation.

Four of the expelled NGOs - Mercy Corps, Save the Children (US), Action Contre la Faim and Solidarites - were crucial partners to the UN's World Food Programme in Darfur, where they carried out 35 percent of WFP distributions and reached 1.1 million people, plus 5,500 malnourished children and mothers on supplementary feeding.

The Government of Sudan's order "will have devastating implications for the citizens of Darfur," said a joint statement issued by six UN agencies, including UN Children's Fund and UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"With some 4.7 million Sudanese - including 2.7 million internally displaced - already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted," Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday in Geneva.

"Aid operations in North Sudan, the largest humanitarian emergency in the world costing over $2 billion annually, will be irrevocably damaged," read the statement.

"Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources such as water," Redmond said.

President Al-Bashir visited the war-ravaged Darfur region Sunday, accompanied by the top UN official for Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, among other members of the diplomatic corps.

During the visit to the capital of North Darfur, El Fasher, where the African Union-UN peacekeeping operation in the region is based, the President addressed the local population at a rally.

Al-Bashir reiterated that Sudan rejects handing over any of its citizens to be tried abroad, describing the allegations of the International Criminal Court as "neocolonialism."

The Sudanese Media Center, which is close to government officials, reported that President Al-Bashir challenged the International Criminal Court to come to Darfur "to hear directly from the sons of Zaghawa, Fur and Masaliet tribes" so that the world would know the false allegations of the ICC. President Al-Bashir called for unity of national ranks.

Haja Mohammed Ahmed and her family have been living in Kalma camp, in South Darfur, for five years, after fleeing attacks on her village in 2003. (Photo courtesy Oxfam)

The Sudanese Media Centre said Khartoum is preparing an "alternative plan" to fill the gap, collaborating instead with "national and friendly foreign" NGOs.

"What had been provided by those organizations to people in Darfur could simply be provided by national organizations," government spokesman Kamal Ibaid was quoted as saying.

So far, the National Health Corporation has said it will send 100 medics and 100 tonnes of medicines to camps for internally displaced persons in Darfur "to bridge any medical gap there."

Mahdi Qutbi, a senior member of the ruling National Congress Party, said more than 200 Sudanese organizations would fill the void, with some taking over the offices of expelled agencies, according to a report on the "Sudan Tribune" website.

The Sudanese Government and the United Nations have agreed to a send a joint team to all three states of Darfur on Wednesday to evaluate the needs of the displaced people for food, water, shelter and health care.

The UN system would support both the expelled groups and those who remained in every practical way, said Holmes today in New York.

"Not only are we trying to deal with the issue of those NGOs whose registrations have been revoked, but also with the NGOs who remain and are legitimately asking questions how long they will be able to remain and how far they will be able to operate in a normal and safe manner," he said.

An estimated 300,000 people have died and another three million have been displaced in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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