Ban urges Sudan to reverse aid expulsion

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Government of Sudan to urgently reconsider its decision, taken after an international court’s indictment of the country’s President yesterday, to expel 13 groups aiding some 4.7 million people in strife-torn Darfur
“The decision by the Government of Sudan to expel 13 non-governmental organizations involved in aid operations in Darfur will, if implemented, cause irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations there,” his spokesperson said in a statement.
With such major actors as Oxfam, Care International, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, and some 6,500 staff, affected, a UN relief official today confirmed that the expulsions will cut humanitarian capabilities in Darfur by at least one half.
The UN News Centre says Sudanese action came immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
Reacting to the Court`s decision Wednesday, Ban had pledged that the UN`s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, with some 25,000 personnel on the ground in Sudan, will continue, stressing the ICC`s status as an “independent judicial institution.”
In his statement today, the Secretary-General stressed that the ejected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide impartial humanitarian assistance.
He also expressed concern about the safety and security of staff members of the groups, stressing that the confiscation of their equipment, money and other materials, which has been reported, “is unacceptable and must end immediately.”
Sudanese officials have demanded that some organizations turn over a list of their assets and banking details, and some have had computers, communications equipment and vehicles confiscated, according to Catherine Bragg, the UN`s Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Bragg told a news conference in New York that some international staff working for the NGOs were given only 24 hours to leave Sudan and several staff members were detained for a few hours and then released.
She said the NGOs affected were: Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Care International, CHF International, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps, both the French and Dutch branches of Médecins sans Frontières, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam GB, PATCO, Solidarite and Save the Children Fund of both the United Kingdom and the United States.
“These agencies are vital implementing partners for the UN and account for at least half of the humanitarian capacity in Darfur,” she said.
Meanwhile, the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the region is relatively calm, with peaceful demonstrations in support of President Al-Bashir taking place today in El Geneina and Zalingei in West Darfur.
UNAMID personnel – including several hundred South Africans – continue their routine activities, with UNAMID Police Commissioner Micheal Fryer leading a confidence-building night patrol to two camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) yesterday, among other patrols covering 28 villages and camps throughout the region, in the past 24 hours.
Reuters adds the UN Security Council will meet today to discuss the matter. They are scheduled to receive a briefing from Bragg on the situation on the ground.
A Libyan diplomat told Reuters his delegation will raise Arab League and African Union requests to meet with Security Council members to discuss suspending the ICC proceedings against al-Bashir.
Western diplomats said the 15-member council was not expected to take any action.
Libya, which holds the council’s rotating presidency this month, hopes to organise a council meeting with AU and Arab League officials, the Libyan diplomat said.
An estimated 300 000 people have died in Darfur, either through direct combat or because of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, over the past five years in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.