By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, March 4 (Reuters) - Sudan revoked the licences of Oxfam and at least five other aid groups on Wednesday after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, aid officials said.
The move — which effectively freezes the agencies’ work — was the first concrete sign of repercussions against international groups after the global court indicted Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Sudanese government officials have in the past threatened to take action against Darfur-based aid groups they say are passing evidence on to the global court’s prosecutor — accusations the agencies deny.
Britain’s Oxfam said Sudanese authorities had revoked its licence to operate in north Sudan.
“This is going to have a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of people, said Oxfam spokesman Alun McDonald.
“We work with 600,000 people in north Sudan, 400,000 of them in Darfur. It is of the utmost importance the government agrees to let us continue that work.”
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said the expulsion of its Dutch section from Darfur — and all its international staff from a number of other sites — would leave more than 200,000 patients without medical care.
“It is absurd that we as an independent and impartial organization have been caught up in a political and judicial process,” said Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF operational director for the Netherlands.
Save the Children, which supports 50,000 children across Sudan, said its suspension would put thousands of lives at risk.
Other aid groups said they had also been told to shut down their operations.
U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said between six and 10 aid agencies have had their registrations revoked and some of their assets seized.
“(U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) notes that this is a serious setback to life-saving operations in Darfur and urges the government of Sudan to act urgently to restore those NGOs to their full operational status,” Okabe said.
The United Nations and agencies are running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur where almost six years of fighting have driven more than 2.7 million people from their homes, international experts say.
Sudan’s state Humanitarian Aid Commission called in managers from the high-profile aid groups, which all work in Darfur, and told them their operating licences were revoked within minutes of the ICC announcement on Wednesday, officials told Reuters.
No one was immediately available for comment from the Commission.
Managers were still hoping to persuade the commission to change its mind and were hoping the United Nations would press Sudan to reverse the decision, said senior humanitarian officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
"This is very serious. This will have a major impact on humanitarian work in Darfur," one official said. (Editing by Jon Boyle) (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/)