6 March 2009

Sudan: Aid Agencies Accused, Expelled

Nairobi — The Sudanese government has expelled 10 aid agencies, accusing them of supplying exaggerated evidence against President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has issued a warrant for his arrest.

"Those organisations were given authority to work in Sudan but are using the opportunity to conduct investigations and pass information to the ICC," Guadong Majok, the Sudanese ambassador to Kenya told journalists in Nairobi.

It is estimated that the ten agencies, including Oxfam, Médecins sans Frontières, Save the Children, CARE and the International Rescue Committee jointly provide up to 70 percent of the total humanitarian assistance in Darfur. This includes water, medical care and food.

International human rights groups are now calling upon the African Union and nations allied to Sudan to implore the government to revoke the expulsions immediately. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the expulsions could have far-reaching implications to the millions of refugees in Darfur.

"President al-Bashir's response to being charged with crimes in Darfur is nothing less than retaliation against the millions of people there. The Sudanese government should reverse this decision immediately, or civilians in Darfur will again suffer the consequences of Khartoum 's abusive policies." Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa director said in a Mar. 5 statement.

Humanitarian agencies still operating in Darfur say the impact of the expulsion is already being felt on the ground, but they are unable to comment further on the matter terming it as too controversial.

"We are not able to speak based on what is happening. It is a risky business," Michael Arunga, World Vision's Emergency Communication Advisor for Africa said.

On Mar. 4, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, making him the first sitting president to be charged by the ICC. He has been charged with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Majok termed the issuance of the arrest warrant against president Bashir an insult to the position of African governments and the Arab League. At the Africa Union Heads of State summit held Feb. 1-3 in Addis Ababa , Ethiopia, African leaders asked the UN Security Council for a 12-month suspension of Bashir's arrest warrant. The AU says the warrant, issued Mar. 4, may jeopardise prospects for peace in Darfur in the face of ongoing talks.

"The ICC decision would have far reaching effects on peace in Darfur . This comes at a crucial juncture in the process to promote peace, reconciliation and democratic government in Sudan ," Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission said Mar. 5.

But Djibril Bassole, the AU-UN mediator for Darfur told IPS that the situation so far was calm and that both parties were committed to peace. He however warned that stability of the talks depended on how the Sudanese government reacts to the ICC's verdict.

Fresh talks to end the six-year old Darfur conflict began in February 2009 in Doha, the capital of Qatar, involving the Sudanese government and rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement. The war, between government backed Arab militia known as the janjaweed and rebels fighting to defend the non-Arab population has led to deaths of 200,000 people, according to United Nation figures. Khartoum says only 10,000 have died.

About 2.5 million people have been displaced. Bashir's government has long been accused of a scheme to depopulate the Darfur region of non-Arabs - Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa- and replace them with Arabs, in what the ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has described as genocide by attrition.

Despite the arrest warrant, Sudanese authorities say the ICC's action is unjustified and have defied orders to act. "We will not hand over Bashir to the ICC. The Sudanese judiciary is capable and willing to address the situation in Darfur, and special courts have already been established for such purposes," Badreldin Abdalla, a senior official at the Sudan Embassy in Nairobi told IPS earlier.

Darfuri human rights campaigners are satisfied with the ICC ruling. "We are happy that the world has finally realised our suffering. Let Bashir be surrendered. He has killed our children, fathers, and raped our mothers, sisters and wives," Aziz Beng, president of the Darfur Survivors' Group told IPS from Nyala, in south Darfur .

He added, "It is no secret that he (Bashir) wants to finish us so that he can take our oil. I am ashamed of the AU coming in support of a blood thirsty leader."

Darfur has huge oil reserves that many believe is the reason why the pursuit for peace has turned into a scramble over resources.

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