By MOHAMED OSMAN | AP
KHARTOUM: Sudan’s government confirmed Wednesday it will expel a number of international aid workers from the restive western region of Darfur, without specifying how many.
Reports from earlier this week said that six foreign staffers, including employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN’s refugee agency, had been verbally told to leave the country.
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 they work for.
“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.
The reports come at a time of strained relations between international aid groups and the government of Sudan.
At a recent gathering, Sudanese President Omar 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 UN 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 UN 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 UN 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 UN 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.