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Sudan expels head of Dutch MSF from Darfur

KHARTOUM, June 25 – Sudanese authorities have expelled the head of the Dutch branch of the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) from the war-stricken region of Darfur, a humanitarian source said on Wednesday.

"Banu Altanbas, who heads operations in Nyala (South Darfur), was ordered to leave Darfur immediately" by Sudan’s Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC) on Sunday, the source told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

Kelly Gluck, the head of MSF-Holland in Sunday, told AFP she had received no formal notification on the case and refused to comment.

Altanbas, who was declared persona non-grata in Darfur by the Sudanese authorities, left the vast western region of Darfur but she has stayed on in Sudan, the source said.

Diplomats have in the past also been declared persona non-grata, notably the UN special envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk who was expelled in 2006.

But it is the first time such measures are taken against MSF, which won the Nobel peace prize in 1999, in Darfur, where five of its branches — from Belgium, Spain, France, Holland and Switzerland — operate.

MSF-Holland employs about 25 expatriates in South Darfur, while MSF in total has around 125 expatriates in war-torn Darfur, assisted by thousands of Sudanese nationals.

After a report by MSF-Holland in 2005 that highlighted incidents of rape in Darfur’s refugee camps, angry Sudanese authorities briefly detained its head in Sudan, Paul Foreman, accusing him of crimes against the Sudanese state.

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The case was later dropped.

"It is obvious that since then MSF-Holland is being watched. The matter is very serious," said the head of a European NGO.

Other NGOs have been targeted by expulsions since the 2003 outbreak of the Darfur conflict, including the US agency CARE in 2007, the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2006, and Britain’s Oxfam and Save the Children in 2004.

Two members of The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) were also expelled in 2007.

Last week, an official with HAC urged international NGOs not to collaborate with OCHA, accusing the UN agency of interfering in Sudan’s domestic political affairs.

OCHA head in Khartoum said this week that conditions for humanitarian workers in Darfur were at their worst in 18 months.

"Vehicles are also attacked at the rate of one per day," said Alun McDonald, OXFAM spokesman, while escorts promised by the Sudanese government were never made available.

The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died from the combined effect of war, famine and diseases and more than two million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003.

Khartoum contests the figures and puts the death toll at 10,000.

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The Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum responded with a scorched earth campaign against ethnic minority villages in Darfur after the rebels took up arms against its rule.

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