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Sudan's life-saving relief work and fragile peace process are at much greater risk if President Omar al-Bashir follows through on his threat this week to rid the country of all international aid groups within 12 months.

In a passionate speech delivered to a military rally in Khartoum's Green Square, Bashir said he wants all relief distribution efforts turned over to Sudanese groups in order to "clear our country of any spies," wire services reported early this week.

Earlier this month, Bashir expelled 13 aid groups from the western region of Darfur, following the International Criminal Court's (ICC) decision to issue a warrant for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. He has accused international aid agencies of secretly collaborating with the ICC. The agencies reject the allegation.

"We have ordered the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to completely 'Sudanize' the voluntary work in Sudan within one year, and after that we don't want international organizations to deal with Sudanese citizens on relief," Bashir told the rally, according to press reports. Bashir said groups that want to continue to provide aid "can just leave it at the airport and Sudanese NGOs can distribute the relief."

Confused by reports of Bashir's order yesterday, relief groups said they will continue to operate until they receive confirmation that they have been ordered to leave.

"World Vision has not received any such communication from the authorities," the nonprofit said in a statement. "We are continuing to implement our programs, which are reaching some 500,000 people in Darfur alone." World Vision also provides services to close to three million people in southern Sudan, and also has projects in northern Sudan.

Darfur ...

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March 2009

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