A Sudanese minister said on Tuesday the country had no plans to expel all foreign aid groups a day after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he wanted local organisations to take over relief distribution within a year.
Al-Bashir sparked fears of mass expulsions when he told a rally on Monday he had ordered the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to ”Sudanise” aid work in the country in a year, saying he wanted to stop foreign aid groups distributing relief inside Sudan.
His announcement was widely seen as a retaliation against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant against him on charges of masterminding atrocities in Darfur.
Earlier this month, Al-Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid groups, and shut down three local organisations, accusing them of passing information to the ICC. Aid groups deny dealing with the Hague-based global court.
Al-Bashir’s close ally, Ahmed Haroun, Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs who is also wanted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur, said the president had meant he wanted foreign aid groups to stay and train their Sudanese counterparts so they could take over the delivery of aid.
”The president wants to see, in a year’s time … a real transformation for national NGOs to take a more proactive role,” Haroun told Reuters in an interview clarifying Al-Bashir’s position.
”This does not mean by the end of reaching this vision we are going to expel all international NGOs,” he said, speaking through a translator.
”The right approach to achieve this is by developing a good plan in a phased approach, so that national NGOs develop capacity and take more responsibilities and gradually international NGOs phase out.”
Haroun said the phrase ”phase out” did not mean the exit of foreign groups, but their gradual adoption of a more a background, training role.
Haroun said Al-Bashir decided to expel the aid groups — including Oxfam, Save the Children and two branches of MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res — because their cooperation with the court threatened national security and the decision would not be reversed. ”There is no way back,” Haroun said.
He said the ICC case had boosted support for Bashir inside Sudan, adding the country would thrive despite growing isolation from the West.
”Sudanese people see the ICC as a new wave of colonisation that is not acceptable … All that has happened has increased the chances of President Bashir winning the elections.” Sudan is due to hold national elections this year.
The ICC accuses Haroun of recruiting and arming Janjaweed militias in Darfur, as part of his then job in the Interior Ministry and of having full knowledge of their atrocities against civilians.
Haroun defended his record in the Darfur conflict, saying he had no regrets over what he did as minister of state for the interior at the time.
”What I did there was part of my professional job and responsibility as stipulated in the Constitution and the law,” he said, adding that he had no chance of a fair trial at the ICC because it was a ”political organisation backed by Europe”.
In a rare show of disunity, and a possible sign of a split inside the government, Haroun accused justice ministry officials of leading a personal campaign against him by spreading false reports of an internal probe of his activities in Darfur.
He said there was no active case against him inside Sudan, despite reports in local media that a prosecutor appointed by the Justice Ministry to look into crimes in Darfur had opened an investigation into him.
Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment. – Reuters