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Defiant Bashir in Darfur, warns foreigners

EL-FASHER, Mar 8 – A defiant President Omar al-Bashir, on his first visit to Darfur since an international warrant for his arrest, on Sunday warned peacekeepers and aid groups to obey Sudan law or face expulsion.

"I have a message to all the diplomatic missions in Sudan, the NGOs and the peacekeepers," he said.
"They have to respect the rule of the country. If anyone goes further than the rule of the country, we will kick them out directly."

Bashir’s trip to the North Darfur state capital of El-Fasher is seen as a calculated show of defiance in the face of mounting Western criticism of his government’s expulsion of 13 aid agencies.

Khartoum’s move followed the International Criminal Court’s announcement of the warrant on Wednesday for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region.

Bashir poured scorn on Western criticism.

"They told us if we leave the NGOs to continue their work, we will freeze the ICC decision, but we reject that," he said, speaking from a high stage to a packed and cheering crowd of several thousand.

He also rejected demands to hand over a minister charged by the ICC with orchestrating war crimes in Darfur.

"They asked us to suspend Ahmed Haroun as a minister or make him resign, but I reject that also," Bashir said.

And he scoffed at efforts by The Hague-based court to bring him to trial, saying: "The ICC, the judges and the prosecutor are all under my shoes."

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As he travelled earlier in an open vehicle to the centre of town cheering supporters waving flags and pictures of Bashir chanted "Down, down Ocampo," referring to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Wearing a safari suit and waving a stick, Bashir grinned back in delight.

The United Nations says the aid agency expulsions will leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without health care and more than a million without drinking water.

Many of the 300,000 people the United Nations says have died in the six-year-old Darfur conflict starved to death or died from disease.

Bashir promised Sudan would replace the work of the expelled aid agencies. "We will fill the gap left by the NGOs," he said, without elaborating.

The Sudan Media Centre, a website close to the security services, said Khartoum was preparing an "alternative plan" to fill the gap, collaborating instead with "national and friendly foreign NGOs."

The official SUNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying the expulsions were irreversible.

Sudan accuses the aid groups of cooperating with the ICC, but they deny any complicity.

UN agencies in Sudan have warned that the expulsion of key aid groups will have "devastating implications" and that in their absence "much of the aid operation literally comes to a halt."

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The expelled organisations account for "more than half" the capacity of the aid operation in Darfur, the UN says.

Oil-rich Sudan has seen its income slashed with the slump in the price of crude, and experts say it would be difficult to replace the support and experience of the relief agencies, even if the political will exists.

"If the life-saving assistance these agencies were providing is not restored shortly, it will have immediate, lasting and profound impacts on the well-being of millions of Sudanese citizens," the UN warned.

"It is not possible, in any reasonable time frame, to replace the capacity and expertise these agencies have provided over an extended period of time."

There are also some 15,500 peacekeepers in Sudan in the joint UN-African Union mission to Darfur (UNAMID), and just fewer than 10,000 in the UN mission monitoring a north-south peace deal (UNMIS).


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