Sudan expels five UN/ICRC staff from West Darfur

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Sudan has expelled five U.N. and ICRC workers from West Darfur state, a U.N. official said, in the latest confrontation with international organisations in a region with the world’s largest aid operation.

The U.N.-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission also announced on Monday that a trench is being built around Nyala, the troubled region’s biggest town, to help prevent kidnappings of peacekeepers and aid workers.

On Saturday two Jordanian UNAMID police were abducted and a U.S. woman from the Samaritan’s Purse charity was taken three months ago.

Sudan’s relationship with foreign aid agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and UNAMID, has long been tense, with expulsions and obstruction often the reward for anyone reporting on rights abuses during the seven-year rebellion.

After the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur last year, he expelled 13 aid organisations. Khartoum says they gave the ICC evidence concerning Darfur.

“The heads of the UNHCR (U.N. refugee agency) and FAO (Food and Agriculture) agencies in West Darfur as well as the head of UNHCR agency in Zalengei have been asked to leave,” Abdallah al-Fadil, head of UNAMID in West Darfur, told Reuters on Monday.

“The government also informed me that it had asked both the ICRC’s heads of delegation in el-Geneina and Zalengei (town) to leave too,” he added.

The ICRC said its staff had been “recalled with the agreement of authorities” and added that its operations continued as normal in West Darfur.

Fadil said it was not clear why the authorities had told the staff to leave, only that they had made mistakes “beyond their mandate”.

Another U.N. source who declined to be named said the FAO head of office in West Darfur was told to leave because he had forwarded a petition against hunger — — and authorities had said he did not obtain approval for it.

On Aug. 7 Bashir told the three Darfur governors they could expel any foreigner who failed to respect Sudan’s authority.

UNAMID is in a tense standoff with Darfur authorities over sheltering six refugees from the volatile Kalma camp who the government says are responsible for violence which killed eight people last month.

The peacekeepers say that without an arrest warrant or guarantees of a fair trial they will not hand over the refugees, a position which has infuriated the government.

Kidnappings of foreign aid workers and UNAMID staff began last year after the ICC warrant for Bashir was issued.

The kidnappers usually are young men from Arab tribes who demand ransom money. Sudan has yet to prosecute any of the abductors.

UNAMID said it had agreed with the government to dig a security trench 2 m (yards) wide by 2 m deep around Nyala, the town most frequently targeted by the kidnappers.

“The trench … will span approximately 40 km long and is expected to be completed within 4-5 weeks,” UNAMID said in a statement, adding it had begun work on its half on Sunday.

Such trenches are intended to prevent vehicles from entering a populated area on the small dirt roads which kidnappers use.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)


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