Sudan drops charges against doctors

Sudan has dropped charges against two European medical aid workers accused of spreading false information in a report alleging widespread rape in the troubled province of Darfur, the organisation which issued the report said on Monday.

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said the Sudanese government told the aid group on Sunday that it was halting all action against the two workers, a Briton and a Dutch citizen, in recognition of the humanitarian aid MSF has been delivering to the country.

At a meeting with MSF on Sunday, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail “expressed respect for all the work that MSF is doing in Sudan, including the assistance in Darfur”, said Kenny Gluck, the operations director for the group’s Dutch branch.

“That was nice for us to hear.”

Ismail gave the organisation a copy of instructions from the Justice Minister Ali Mohammed Osman Yasin ordering his staff to drop all charges, Gluck said in Khartoum.

The letter said the decision was taken in view of MSF’s work in Darfur “which is badly in need of humanitarian support, and in order to strengthen the relationship between government institutions and humanitarian organisations”.

Paul Foreman, the group’s regional director in Khartoum, and Vincent Hoedt, the coordinator for Darfur, were arrested three weeks ago after the international medical aid organisation released a report saying it had first hand testimony from hundreds of rape victims in the western province.

The two were charged after Foreman refused to release the names of the women interviewed, fearing reprisals against them.

An estimated 180 000 people have died, many from disease or hunger, and about two million have been displaced in two years of conflict in Darfur between Sudanese rebels, government forces and government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed.

United Nations Special Representative Jan Pronk had been in Sudan to facilitate contacts between the government and the Nobel Peace prize-winning organisation.

In an exchange of letters, the group explained why it felt compelled to issue the rape report, and the government explained its objections, said Bart Rijs, a spokesperson in Amsterdam.

“Apparently, we were able to convince them,” he said.

Khartoum has denied that widespread and systematic rape has occurred in the conflict.

International humanitarian groups have said the arrests followed a pattern of intimidation against other non-government organisations working in Sudan.

Gluck said he told the foreign minister that the organisation would continue making its information public on the Darfur situation.

“Reporting on the nature and causes of suffering is our obligation. It’s not something MSF can stop doing,” he said.

The organisation has 180 expatriate staff and about 4 000 Sudanese workers in Darfur, operating hospitals, clinics and feeding centres for children whose families have been driven from their homes. - Sapa-AP

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