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Bashir wants foreign aid groups out

SUDAN'S president said yesterday he wanted foreign aid groups to stop distributing aid in Sudan within a year, in an escalation in the country's defiant response to an international war crimes warrant against him.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled 13 international aid groups this month, accusing them of helping the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant against him, accusing him of orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. Aid groups deny the accusation.

In an emotional speech to thousands of soldiers and police, Bashir said he had ordered Sudanese aid groups to take over the distribution of all relief inside the country ?? a move that could freeze the work of more than 70 foreign organizations still operating in Darfur and other strife-torn areas.

If carried out, the order will also create a dilemma for international donors, including the governments of the United States and Britain, over whether they will be able to continue to pour millions into projects across the underdeveloped country without full control over how their aid is distributed.

"We have ordered the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to completely Sudanise the voluntary work in Sudan within one year and after that we don't want international organizations to deal with Sudanese citizens with relief," Bashir told the rally.

"If they (the international organisations) want to continue providing aid, they can just leave it at the airport and Sudanese NGOs (non governmental organizations) can distribute the relief."

"We need to clear our country of any spies," he told the cheering crowd in Khartoum's Green Square rally ground.

Bashir said Sudan's neighbours Ethiopia and Eritrea had carried out similar programs to distribute foreign aid through local groups.

Bashir did not specify how the order would be carried out. It was not clear whether more than 70 foreign aid groups still working inside Sudan would also be expelled, or how the order would affect UN agencies.

It was also not certain whether the order would cover aid programs in Sudan's semi-autonomous south. The earlier expulsion of 13 aid agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children and two branches of Medecins Sans Frontieres, only affected operations in the north.

Thousands of soldiers from the regular army and the Popular Defence Forces militia pledged allegiance to Bashir during the rally, the latest in a series of demonstrations against the ICC's warrant.

Bashir was a career army officer when he overthrew a democratically elected civilian government in 1989. The army remains one of his strongest power bases.


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