March 20, 2009 / 10:25 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan says to never reverse decision to expel NGOs

* U.S. says President Bashir is responsible for the crisis

* Security Council split on what to do about Sudan

* ICC prosecutor says Bashir is exterminating his people

* ICC judges expected to decide on rebel indictments soon (Adds more Rice remarks, ICC prosecutor; paragraphs 6, 14-17)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 (Reuters) - The United States and several other members of the U.N. Security Council urged Sudan on Friday to reverse its decision to expel 13 foreign aid groups, but Khartoum’s envoy said Sudan would never back down.

Sudan ordered the aid agencies out of Darfur after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir earlier this month over alleged war crimes in the western region. Sudan, which does not recognize the ICC, rejects the charge.

"We urge the international community to press the government of Sudan to reverse its expulsion edict and to ensure it does nothing to worsen an already grave situation," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told the 15-nation Security Council.

Rice said Bashir deserved most of the blame.

"President Bashir created this crisis," she said. "He should rectify it immediately."

Rice urged the council to unite to help the people of Darfur. As expected, the council took no action during the meeting but will return to the issue next week.

Without giving details, Rice told reporters after the meeting that Washington was consulting with council members and other U.N. member states on "appropriate next steps."

British, Austrian, Ugandan and several other envoys also appealed to Khartoum to rethink its position. They cited a bleak report on the humanitarian situation in Darfur from a senior U.N. humanitarian affairs official, Rashid Khalikov.

But the Chinese and Libyan delegates were more cautious, focusing on the negative impact of the ICC arrest warrant.

DEFIANT SUDAN

Khalikov told the council there were "significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives of people in Darfur" since the 13 foreign and three domestic NGOs were expelled.

U.N. officials say the banished aid groups accounted for around half of the aid-distribution capacity in Darfur.

Sudanese envoy Mohamed Yousif Ibrahim Abdelmannan told the council that Khartoum would not back down.

"The decision of the government of Sudan is a legitimate sovereign decision which we will never reverse, and this should not be a issue for discussion," he said, adding that Khartoum had only expelled a small percentage of the NGOs.

Sudan has accused the NGOs of aiding the ICC in its investigation of Bashir, a charge the aid groups reject.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who is in New York to urge countries to act on the ICC arrest warrant, told reporters he had received no help or information from NGOs or U.N. agencies in his investigation.

He added that Bashir’s decision to expel NGOs proved the court had been right to issue a warrant for his arrest.

"Now that he expelled humanitarian assistance, he is confirming he is exterminating his people," Ocampo said. "That is why his arrest is needed to stop the crimes."

Ocampo added that the ICC judges were expected to make a decision within the next few weeks on whether to indict several rebels for an attack on AU peacekeepers in 2007. He said one of the rebels had promised to surrender to the court if indicted.

The Arab League and African Union, backed by China and Russia, have called on the council to use its power to suspend the ICC indictment of Bashir. The United States, Britain and France have said they see no point in halting his prosecution.

U.N. officials say that as many as 300,000 people have died in six years of conflict in Darfur between African rebels and the Arab-dominated government. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)




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