Sat, May 09, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Khartoum allows expanded role for remaining aid groups

REUTERS , KHARTOUM

Sudan said on Thursday it would allow UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) still present in the country to expand their operations, a move that aims to narrow the gap left by expelled aid groups.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had pushed out 13 international aid groups after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in March on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. Sudan accused the aid groups of helping build the charges against Bashir.

Speaking after meeting UN humanitarian chief John Holmes, US special envoy Scott Gration and other officials, Sudanese Humanitarian Assistance Minister Haroun Lual Ruun said Khartoum would be “allowing the remaining UN and NGOs to expand their existing operations.”

“We have also agreed to further improve the NGOs operating environment by easing travel and visas restrictions, by reviewing the need for individual technical agreements for NGOs,” he said.

About 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid in Darfur, a conflict in which UN officials say as many as 300,000 people have died in almost six years of ethnic and political violence. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

After the expulsion Sudan said that Sudanese groups had been filling the gaps left by expelled groups and there was no problem with aid distribution, but foreign agencies have disputed that.

Ruun also said the Sudanese government invited new international NGOs to begin operations in Sudan. Holmes reiterated that while the UN’s preference would be for the expulsion decision to be revoked: “I think what we’re hearing ... is that new NGOs with new names, new logos, if necessary, can come in. That means there’s an opportunity to exploit some of that expertise and experience that is there and I think that is a welcome degree of flexibility about how it might happen in the future.”

Holmes said the talks with the government aimed to improve the humanitarian community’s operating environment by achieving even more favorable conditions than before the expulsions.

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