Sudan is allowing aid agencies expelled last March after war crimes charges were filed against the country’s president to return to Darfur, the UN humanitarian chief said on Thursday.
Sudanese representatives “have made clear, including during my visit [in May] that help from international humanitarian agencies and NGOs is welcome and valued,” said John Holmes, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
They publicly and privately have said they both remaining and new non-governmental organizations are welcome, Holmes said.
“So I think that possibility is there for all the organizations which were expelled and some of them already have taken advantage of it,” he said.
“They now got very recently new registrations and will be restarting their operations,” he added.
Holmes said four of the 13 expelled NGOs — CARE, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and PADCO, an international development consulting firm — took advantage of the new flexibility and “this week completed initial registration processes in Khartoum.”
It is unclear how quickly the NGOs can restart their operations and how fully, Holmes said.
“But still it is a welcome development and I hope that will actually result in extra capacity,” he said.
Sudan expelled the NGOs and local aid groups after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Khartoum accused the NGOs of spying and working for the ICC.
“We have made some good progress, I think, with the [Khartoum] government in trying to create a more positive atmosphere following the very negative atmosphere” following the arrest warrant, Holmes said. “Some useful agreements have been reached for example on multi-entry visas for NGO staff which we did not have before.”
Beshir denounced the ICC arrest warrant on Monday as an “infringement” on his country’s sovereignty.
“Such a move ushers a new era of domination and infringement upon the independence and sovereignty of Sudan,” he told a summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa in the Zimbabwean resort town of Victoria Falls.
Beshir called the charges a “falsity” aimed at breaking apart his country.
The Sudanese leader has travelled to countries without treaty obligations to the ICC and is trying to rally support around Africa to have the warrant suspended.
The UN says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in February 2003.
Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
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