Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sudan suspends Catholic aid group's work in Darfur

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has suspended the work of the humanitarian agency Catholic Relief Services in West Darfur state, accusing it of distributing Bibles, a local aid official said on Saturday.
It was the latest in a series of restrictions on foreign humanitarian agencies in Darfur, where eight years of conflict have led to one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began.
"The work of CRS has been suspended in West Darfur after there was an accusation that they had been distributing Bibles," Mohamed Awad, head of the government's Humanitarian Aid Commission in the state, told Reuters by telephone.
Darfur is almost entirely Muslim. Awad said Bibles had been found in refugee camps and schools and the governor had ordered an investigation which showed they had been handed out by CRS.
He said a final decision had yet to be made on CRS operations in the state.
CRS, whose programmes include education, and water and sanitation, declined to comment but said its operations were continuing in Khartoum and south Sudan.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and genocide in Darfur in 2009. He responded by expelling 13 of the largest foreign aid groups working there.
Earlier this month, Sudan expelled the French agency Medecins du Monde, accusing it of spying and helping rebels. The group was one of the few working in the rebel stronghold of Jabel Marra which Sudan's army attacked on Thursday.
The government has barred access by aid agencies to Jabel Marra for much of the past year. Dozens of aid and U.N. workers must wait for months for visas and other papers and Sudan regularly expels individual foreign staff.
Aid operations in the region have been hampered by insecurity and kidnappings or foreign workers. Khartoum has yet to prosecute any kidnappers.

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