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South Sudan party condemns aid group expulsion

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan’s ruling party urged the Khartoum government on Saturday to reverse its decision to expel aid agencies that it had accused of passing information to war crimes prosecutors.

Khartoum shut down 13 foreign and three local aid groups this week after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of war crimes in Darfur. Aid groups deny the allegation.

Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) spokesman Yien Matthew said the expulsion would have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of displaced Darfuris.

“People in Darfur who are displaced are dependent on these humanitarian agencies. It could be catastrophic...We are hoping they will change their minds,” Matthew said.

The comments were the first from within Sudan’s political system as the SPLM is in a national coalition government with Bashir’s dominant National Congress Party.

Matthew said the Bashir had taken the decision without consulting his southern political partners.

“They are aware of (our disapproval) and yet they are still continuing.”

The expulsions on Wednesday and Thursday drew international condemnation and U.N. agencies in Sudan on Saturday said the closures would seriously damage humanitarian operations in northern Sudan.

The United Nations said in a statement that the expulsion of high-profile organisations including Oxfam, Save the Children and two branches of Medecins Sans Frontiers, removed 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce in northern Sudan.

“It is not possible, in any reasonable time frame, to replace the capacity and expertise these agencies have provided over an extended period of time,” it said.

U.N. agencies rely on aid groups to deliver much of their food aid and other assistance to people on the ground, so the expulsions will also hit programmes run by the World Food Programme and other bodies. The expulsions did not affect agencies in southern Sudan.

The SPLM fought northern Sudan in a two-decade civil war that ended in a 2005 peace agreement that created a semi-autonomous government in the south, set up the north-south coalition and promised a referendum on southern independence in 2011.

The SPLM has maintained an ambiguous position on the International Criminal Court case saying Khartoum should cooperate with the court without spelling out how.

SPLM leader and first Vice President of Sudan Salva Kiir made a lukewarm statement of support the day before Wednesday’s ICC decision but southern officials have been quiet since then.

Khartoum-based opposition parties have also kept a low profile since the court’s decision was announced.

Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan