KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese authorities on Monday expelled French aid group Medecins du Monde from a state in the Darfur region, accusing it of spying on the government and helping rebels.
U.N. sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sudanese security officials raided the group’s compound and arrested staff in south Darfur’s capital Nyala on Thursday.
Sudan, highly suspicious of foreign intervention, has had a tense relationship with the aid groups that poured in to help hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Darfur’s eight-year conflict between government troops and rebels.
Workers from four humanitarian organisations, who asked not to be named, told Reuters there had been a recent increase travel restrictions and worsening security conditions.
“I announced today my decision to expel the group from the state,” South Darfur governor Abdel Hamid Kasha told Reuters.
“Medecins du Monde work as spies. They make negative reports about the state ... They supported the Abdel Wahed Mohamed al- Nur movement with money and food and treatment,” he added, referring to one of Darfur’s rebel groups.
Medecins du Monde’s Paris-based general director Pierre Salignon said he had not received any official notice of an expulsion. “We are a purely humanitarian organisation, trying to reach people in a very difficult situation,” he told Reuters.
Medecins du Monde was one of the last aid groups working in the central Jabel Marra region, a rebel stronghold and the scene of recent clashes. Other aid groups say the government has barred access to large parts of the area for a year.
U.N. sources said security officials arrested more than 12 Sudanese people working for the group on Thursday, later releasing all but two. Two foreign workers flew from Nyala to Khartoum over the weekend, they said.
The expulsion comes at a sensitive time for Sudan which is trying to persuade Western powers to help forgive its debt and ease sanctions, partly imposed over the Darfur conflict.
Sudan faced international condemnation when it expelled 13 aid groups including Oxfam and the U.S. branch of Save the Children in March 2009, accusing them of passing information to the International Criminal Court.
The court has issued arrest warrants for Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of orchestrating genocide and war crimes during the government’s campaign to crush the uprising in Darfur.
Some of the surviving aid groups said they were now facing smaller-scale harassment, targeting individual staff members, sometimes forcing them to leave for spurious reasons rather than publicly expelling them.
Darfur’s U.N.-led peacekeeping force said West Darfur authorities last month warned staff from the U.S. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) that they were no longer safe and told them to leave.
Leaflets later circulated in state capital El Geneina falsely accusing the group of distributing bibles in the Muslim region, U.N. sources said. CRS declined to comment.
Sudan expelled five U.N. and international Red Cross workers from West Darfur in August last year, soon after Bashir gave a speech authorising states to oust foreign groups that exceeded their mandate.