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Sudan Ousts Aid Agencies Following ICC Warrant For President

Aid groups fear they won't be able to help the millions of Darfur refugees, many of whom are in desperate circumstances.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has ordered 10 leading foreign aid agencies to leave the country after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The Sudanese government acted swiftly to retaliate against the international community after the ICC's decision to issue the warrant.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Taha accused the 10 humanitarian aid organizations of violating "laws and regulations," and said aid was being used as a cover to achieve a political agenda affecting the stability of Sudan.

Taha did not give any specifics, but the government has previously claimed that some groups were cooperating with the ICC in trying to bring President al-Bashir before the court.

Taha said the government will not deal with the ICC in any way, declaring its "categorical rejection" of its verdict.

The French medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers, MSF) has expressed "outrage" at the expulsion order, and called the Sudanese allegations of political interference "absurd."

"We have been expelled from three project areas where we were working, which means we cannot provide medical services there. That means that population is without medical care, and there were other aid organizations which were very much involved in food distribution," MSF spokesman Hans van de Weerd said.

Impact On Most Vulnerable

"The fact that they are not in a position to do their work will impact that part of humanitarian assistance." Van de Weerd added that the MSF programs alone account for some 235,000 people in Darfur.

A spokesman for another well-known humanitarian group, Oxfam, said that big numbers are involved.

"[We are] providing hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable people, including many affected by the conflict in Darfur, with water, sanitation, and health services, and the government decision to revoke our registration is going to have an enormous impact on their lives," Alan McDonald said.

Analysts reckon that as many as 2 million people could suffer in the absence of the 10 big aid organizations.

MSF and Oxfam deny being involved in any political activity in Darfur. "We have always taken a very independent approach -- we are treating people on the basis of their medical needs; we are not involved in any political agenda," the MSF's Van de Weerd said.

At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Khartoum's action "represents a serious setback to lifesaving operations in Darfur," and he called on Sudan to reverse its decision.

The ICC's decision to issue the arrest warrant against al-Bashir was a controversial one with many critics. It is the first warrant for a sitting head of state.

Sudan's ally China has called for suspension of the warrant, and it noted that the African Union, the Arab League, and the Nonaligned Movement also opposed it as likely to sow instability in the region.

Russia has expressed concern at the precedent set in international relations. South Africa, the continent's most developed country, has also called the ICC's move "regrettable."

But many Western states support the court's endeavor.