US urges protest of Darfur aid group expulsions – By EDITH M. LEDERER (UNITED NATIONS (AP))

March 11th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

The United States is urging leading African, Arab and Muslim groups to protest Sudan’s ordering aid organizations out of Darfur, an expulsion it says threatens the lives of more than a million Muslims.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Tuesday the African Union, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference must tell the Sudanese government to reverse the expulsion of the largest humanitarian organizations in conflict-wracked Darfur.

The Sudanese government ordered the expulsion of 13 international aid organizations and three domestic groups after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last week for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“If this decision stands, we can expect over a million people to be in immediate risk of losing their lives and the responsibility for that decision lies squarely with the government of Sudan,” Rice told reporters.

There has been criticism of the arrest warrant in Africa and the Middle East. The African Union chief, Jean Ping, has called it “counterproductive” for peace efforts in Darfur. And in a strong sign of support, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani said al-Bashir will be invited and welcomed at an Arab summit in late March.

“I think it’s imperative that the African Union and its member states, the OIC, the Arab League come together and deliver a very clear message to the government that they will not tolerate and stand by while over a million African Muslims are at risk of urgent death,” Rice said.

She said diplomatic efforts are continuing in New York, Washington, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the AU is headquartered, to reverse the expulsion orders. One council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the contacts are private, said al-Bashir doesn’t appear to be listening.

Arab and African nations are also pressing the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution deferring any prosecution of the president for at least a year, hoping to defuse the crisis.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said Monday that U.N. agencies, the Sudanese government, and aid organizations allowed to remain in Darfur don’t have the resources to fully replace the activities of the 13 expelled aid groups.

The 7,610 people ordered out represent more than 50 percent of the roughly 14,000 humanitarian workers from 85 organizations that had been working in Darfur, he said.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the relief agencies are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million people in Darfur.

According to the U.N., up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes since the conflict began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government, complaining of discrimination and neglect.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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