Sudan orders Red Cross to suspend aid work in war-torn regions

AFP-JIJI

Sudanese authorities have ordered the Red Cross to suspend its activities, the organization said Saturday, in the latest restriction to be placed on foreign aid workers in the war-ravaged country.

“We have received an official letter from the HAC (Humanitarian Aid Commission) informing us to suspend our activities with effect from today,” Rafiullah Qureshi, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan, said in an interview. “Our activities are suspended.”

He said HAC cited “some technical issues” related to work that ICRC hoped to undertake this year in the country.

As a neutral intermediary, the Red Cross has facilitated the hand over and repatriation of numerous prisoners held by armed groups in the country’s war-torn Darfur region. The agency has also provided health services, food aid, seeds, tools, hand pumps and other assistance that helped more than 1.5 million people in restive parts of the country last year, Qureshi said.

Although its projects are suspended, the ICRC’s roughly 700 local and international workers will still go to their offices while discussions take place “in coming days” with Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, HAC and other government agencies, he said. The aim is “to resume our activities as soon as possible in favor of the victims of armed conflict.”

HAC’s registrar general, Mohammed Fadlallah, said he had no idea about the case and referred inquiries to the commission’s commissioner, Suleiman Abdel Rahman.

Sudanese officials have repeatedly expressed their wish to cooperate with international agencies. However, access has been restricted to the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where rebellions began more than two years ago and where the United Nations says more than 1 million people have been displaced or severely affected.

There has been no aid access to rebel-held areas of the two states since 2011.

In 2012, HAC expelled seven international nongovernmental organizations from impoverished eastern Sudan, arguing that some projects were badly managed, of poor quality and too costly. Also that year, Doctors Without Borders said it had been forced to suspend medical activities in a part of North Darfur due to restrictions imposed on its work there.

In 2009, Sudan revoked the licences of 13 international aid groups working in Darfur shortly after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant against President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes.

Qureshi said ICRC work in Sudan had previously been suspended in the 1990s.

The suspension of ICRC comes days after Bashir appealed for a “renaissance” in Sudan, which is ravaged by war, poverty and political turmoil. In a speech that did not reveal detailed initiatives, he said peace is his top priority and “freedom of people” must be respected.

Half of Sudan’s 19 states are affected by conflict and 6.1 million people are estimated to need humanitarian assistance, the United Nations has said.