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08 Mar 2009 12:09
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir flew into Darfur on Sunday to rally supporters in defiance of criticism for his shutdown of aid agencies running a huge humanitarian relief effort.
Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid groups and shut down three local organisations saying they helped the International Criminal Court (ICC), which last week issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir over charges he masterminded atrocities in Darfur.
Before the expulsions, the United Nations and aid groups were running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur where, international experts say, almost six years of fighting has driven more than 2,7-million people from their homes.
Al-Bashir arrived in north Darfur’s capital El Fasher as officials said the expulsion orders were “irreversible”.
Thousands of people waved banners and flags to greet Al-Bashir, who rode in the back of a pick-up truck. The crowd taunted ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, releasing a donkey with an Ocampo mask to roam the town.
Foreign Ministry undersecretary Mutrif Siddig told the state Suna news agency that the aid groups’ cooperation with the ICC had been “proved by evidence”.
Siddig also was quoted by the Sudanese Media Centre saying government agencies would cover the programmes left by the expelled aid groups, with help from remaining foreign and local organisations.
The expelled groups, including Oxfam and Save the Children, have denied helping the court and warned the closure of their programmes will have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people in Darfur and beyond.
UN agencies in Sudan on Saturday released a statement saying it would be impossible to fill the gap left by the expelled organisations which made up about 40% of the humanitarian workforce in Darfur.
“While some 85 international NGOs operate in Darfur, without these organisations much of the aid operation literally comes to a halt,” the statement said.
Aid officials have warned the expulsions will hit other turbulent areas of northern Sudan, particularly in areas along the contested border with the country’s semi-autonomous south.
The expulsions did not affect aid programmes in southern Sudan.
Despite heavy security, Al-Bashir put himself in some personal danger by visiting El Fasher, analysts said.
Most people in Darfur support the ICC arrest warrant, and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, which has called for the arrest of al-Bashir, has threatened to attack El Fasher in the past.
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