Al-Bashir: Ready to expel ambassadors

Sudan is ready to expel foreign ambassadors “if they exceed their diplomatic mission”, President Omar al-Bashir was quoted as saying on Thursday in his latest act of defiance of the West.

Tensions between al-Bashir and the West have risen since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Shortly after the warrant was issued two weeks ago, Sudan ordered the expulsion of 13 foreign aid agencies, sparking deep international concerns about the plight of the people in war-ravaged Darfur.

On Wednesday al-Bashir visited Darfur for the second time since the warrant was issued, and urged rebels to lay down their arms.

In an interview due to be published in Egypt’s independent Al-Isboa weekly on Saturday, al-Bashir said expelling the aid agencies was designed to send a clear message to the West.

“We have 87 NGOs in Darfur and we expelled 12 of them which had intelligence-linked activities,” he was quoted as saying in a copy of the interview faxed to AFP.

Al-Bashir has said Sudan will replace the work of the expelled agencies and warned that Khartoum wanted no foreign aid groups on the ground within a year.

“Their expulsion is a clear message and I hope that the West and the Americans will understand it. We will not be afraid of their threats or of their media which tell lies.

“And I tell them that we are even ready to expel ambassadors if they exceed their diplomatic mission.”

The United Nations says the action against the aid agencies will leave 1,1 million people without food, 1,5 million without healthcare and more than a million without drinking water.

Many of the 300 000 people the United Nations says have died in the Darfur conflict starved or died from disease. Sudan puts the death toll at 10 000.

The United States has also stepped up its criticism of Khartoum, with President Barack Obama on Wednesday naming a new special envoy to Sudan to confront what he called “the worsening humanitarian crisis in Darfur”.

“Sudan is a priority for this administration, particularly at a time when it cries out for peace and for justice,” Obama said in a statement naming retired air force General Scott Gration as his envoy.

“The government of Sudan’s disastrous decision to expel humanitarian relief organisations leaves a void that will be filled by deprivation and despair and they will be held accountable for the lives lost,” Obama said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has vowed that al-Bashir “will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps”.

On Tuesday, a Nigerian peacekeeper with the joint UN-African Union force in Darfur was killed in an ambush, the 14th to die since the mission took over from a beleaguered AU force in January 2008.

More than 2,7 million people have also fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in February 2003. — AFP

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