- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United Nations chief warned Tuesday that Sudan’s expulsion of 16 aid groups from Darfur has put the lives of more than 1 million people at risk and increased the potential for instability in the region.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Sudanese government to reconsider its decision to oust aid workers and to “re-establish an atmosphere of trust and mutual confidence with the humanitarian community.”

While joint efforts by the U.N. and Sudan “can address some of the most critical gaps in aid delivery in the coming weeks,” Ban said, “the cumulative effects over time of the removal of such a large amount of humanitarian capacity puts well over 1 million people at life-threatening risk.”

“The rainy season starting in May is likely to make the situation significantly worse,” Ban warned.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled 13 international aid groups and three local ones after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Al-Bashir refused to cooperate with the Netherlands-based court and accused the aid groups of spying for the tribunal _ charges they denied.

The U.N. said the expulsion order affected 7,610 of the roughly 14,000 humanitarian workers for 85 organizations that were working in Darfur.

“The decision to expel the NGOs has put innocent civilians at risk and increased the potential for instability in the region,” Ban said.

He said he was “extremely concerned” at the impact on the work of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force that is trying to protect civilians in Darfur, where ethnic African rebel groups have been fighting the Arab-dominated national government for more than six years.

“A significant disruption in the provision of humanitarian assistance will almost certainly lead to a serious heightening of tensions among internally displaced persons, particularly in the larger camps for the displaced,” Ban said. “These added tensions could increase the risk of violence in the camps and their environs.”

The war in Darfur began in early 2003 when rebel groups rose up against the government complaining of discrimination and neglect. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

As of March 31, about two-thirds of a planned 26,000-strong U.N.-AU peacekeeping force had deployed in Darfur.

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