March 9, 2009 / 6:01 PM / 11 years ago

Sudan can't fill gaps from expelled aid groups: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Sudanese government lacks sufficient capacity to do the work of the aid groups it has ordered out of the country’s war-ravaged Darfur region, the top U.N. humanitarian affairs official said on Monday.

Sudanese soldiers secure the airport during the arrival of Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Al Fasher, northern Darfur March 8, 2009. Al-Bashir threatened on Sunday to expel diplomats and more aid groups, brandishing a sword at a Darfur rally days after a Hague court issued a warrant for him for war crimes. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Sudan has targeted 13 foreign and three local aid groups saying they collaborated with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which last week issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem on Friday told reporters that the Sudanese government would have no problem filling in any gaps in aid distribution created by the expulsion of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

But U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters on Monday that this was not the case.

“We do not, as the U.N. system, the NGOs do not, ... and the (Sudanese) government does not have the capacity to replace all the activities that have been going on, certainly not on any short- or medium-term basis,” he said.

That, Holmes said, “is why the challenge is so daunting if the decision of the government of Sudan is not reversed.” He said the NGOs targeted by Khartoum accounted for approximately 50 percent of the humanitarian aid capacity in Darfur.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that U.N. humanitarian operations in Darfur, where some 4.7 million people rely on aid, would face “irrevocable damage” if the decision to shut down the aid groups was not reversed.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Ban had not spoken with Bashir in the aftermath of the ICC announcement.

Holmes said Ban, who is on a trip to Haiti, had been working the telephone in an attempt to resolve the crisis and might personally appeal to the president, now an official war crimes suspect, to permit the return of the NGOs.

“One possibility is a discussion between him (Ban) and the president of Sudan at the appropriate moment,” he said.

Holmes added that U.N. and NGO staff have faced harassment at the hands of Sudanese security forces, including “intimidatory behavior.” He added that U.N. officials had complained about this to the government.

“Assets of international NGOs have been confiscated, including in some cases United Nations assets I have to say, things like vehicles and computers, vital data for assistance to beneficiaries, ... food and non-food items,” he said.

Holmes said there were one or two warehouses containing World Food Program food seized by local authorities, which he hoped would be returned.

He added that the supply of food and water at camps for displaced persons in Darfur would become increasingly problematic in the coming days.

Holmes also dismissed Abdalhaleem’s assertion on Friday that the decision to expel the NGOs was not retaliation for the ICC decision.

“I think its reasonably clear this was a political response to a decision that has nothing to do with the U.N. or any of the NGOs,” he said.

Additional reporting by Megan Davies; editing by Cynthia Osterman

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