- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

GENEVA — The U.N. agency for refugees has severed relations with two private relief organizations, one working in Sudan and another in Afghanistan, over suspected links with terrorist organizations.

A report by the inspector general’s office at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the agency discontinued its relations with the two organizations and that follow-up action was taken with the regional bureaus concerned.

Relations were severed with Benevolence International, a group operating in Sudan, and with Islamic Relief Association (ISRA), operating in Afghanistan and maybe in Sudan, according to senior diplomats interviewed this week who asked not to be named.

Neither group was named in the report.

Both were founded in Sudan in the 1980s and have received some financial support from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, according to diplomats who asked not to be named.

The UNHCR also is conducting similar inquiries into two other Islamic non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Azerbaijan and in Eastern Sudan.

Both of the NGOs blacklisted by the UNHCR have been on so-called “red notice” by the international police group Interpol, accused of using forged passports, forged credit cards, smuggling people and raising funds for Islamic militants in Chechnya and Afghanistan, diplomats said.

The charges against them “leaves us with little doubt” and “raised sufficient red flags,” one said.

The UNHCR looks after millions of refugees fleeing persecution or violent conflict. It also helps repatriate refugees worldwide.

More than 500 NGOs help the agency implement its operations worldwide each year.

The matter is sensitive as the blacklisted NGOs are still active in areas where many U.N. agencies are also working.

A member of the U.S. delegation to the UNHCR’s ruling executive committee session said: “The U.S. supports the UNHCR’s practice of sharing information it has on such organizations with stakeholders, and we confirm we have received such information in the past.”

Ed Schenburg, chief of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), an umbrella group for 82 leading NGOs, said, “Any allegations or insinuations of terrorism links by certain NGOs are of concern to us.”

He said that many Islamic NGOs in their organization have been exposed to security suspicions even though they have never been linked to terrorism by any country or agency.

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