December 26, 2014 / 6:58 PM / 4 years ago

Sudan defends decision to expel two United Nations officials

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan defended on Friday its decision to expel two senior UNDP officials and urged the world body to respect Sudanese sovereignty, worsening tensions with the United Nations.

Sudan ordered Ali Al-Za’tari, resident coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Yvonne Helle, the UNDP’s country director, to leave the country, the U.N. said on Thursday, a move condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Last month, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir called for peacekeepers from UNAMID, the joint U.N.-African Union Mission in Darfur, to leave.

On Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Yousef al-Kordofani said the government decided to expel Za’atri, a Jordanian, because of comments he made in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper that appeared to criticize the Sudanese people.

Helle was expelled for several reasons, Kordofani told Reuters, including what the government saw as her high-handed manner and for cutting programs without due consultation.

“The Khartoum government calls on the U.N. Secretary-General to revise his hasty condemnation of the decision to expel the officials,” he said, noting that the United Nations should ensure its representatives respect Sudan’s sovereignty.

Sudan has already shut UNAMID’s human rights office in Khartoum and called on the mission to prepare an exit plan. It has also denied peacekeepers permission to pay a second visit to the site of alleged mass rapes by Sudanese soldiers in Darfur.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping forces has said UNAMID was unlikely to bow to Sudan’s request to leave when the situation there appears to be worsening.

U.N. sources said that Helle, a Dutch national, had been told to leave Sudan by Dec. 29, and Za’tari would go by Jan. 2.

Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Louise Ireland

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