Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sudan to deport foreign aid workers

Sudan's government confirmed Wednesday it will expel a number of international aid workers from the restive western region of Darfur for unspecified "violations."
U.N. officials earlier had said six staffers from international aid groups had been told by local Darfur officials that their security could no longer be guaranteed and they had to leave West Darfur.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said it was a verbal order.

Expulsion orders from local officials is a new phenomenon for aid groups working in Darfur and the latest sign of rising strains between the international organizations and the government.

Those expelled worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and its refugee agency, according to the officials.

A spokesman for the Rome-based FAO confirmed an Eritrean man working as a consultant was among those expelled Sunday, after he collected signatures for an anti-hunger petition without consulting with local authorities.

Talks are under way between FAO representatives and Sudanese authorities to guarantee his return after what appeared to be some sort of "misunderstanding," the spokesman said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Muwaia Khaled told the Associated Press the aid workers were being deported

individually, and the deportation does not reflect on the organizations for which they work.

"Any organization that abides by the regulations and code set will be respected," Khaled stressed. "There are indeed some violations committed and this is the reason why they were expelled."

He did not elaborate on the nature of the offenses and said the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs would disclose more later.

At a recent gathering, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told local Darfur officials that they can act independently "to expel and order out any international organization or agency or any quarter that exceeds its stipulated mandate or tries to obstruct the work of the local authorities."

The U.N. has said constraints on aid agencies operating in the vast Darfur region have been steadily increasing since March 2009, when 11 international aid organizations were expelled following an indictment of the Sudanese president for crimes against humanity in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

Samuel Hendricks, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, said the recent orders have larger implications than just the state of international staffing.

"It's not about the individuals or the organizations, the point is these people are working in a humanitarian capacity and trying to help the population of Darfur," he said.

Fighting in Darfur began with a 2003 rebellion by groups who accused the government of neglecting the desert region. The ongoing conflict has left up to 300,000 people dead and forced 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures.

Several rebel groups have negotiated peace agreements with the government but two major armed groups, the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement, have refused. The U.N. Security Council on July 30 called for an immediate halt to the escalating violence in Darfur and demanded that all rebel groups to join peace talks. 

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