Humanitarian agencies call on SRRA to reopen negotiations

NAIROBI - The largest humanitarian agencies who have been forced to leave southern Sudan appealed today to the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association to reopen negotiations on the Memorandum of Understanding.
Humanitarian agencies that were unable to sign the current draft of the memorandum yesterday (Tuesday) completed the forced withdrawal of their staff, in accordance with the instructions of the SRRA.

It has been impossible to reach an agreement before the deadline today (March 1st) that was set by the SRRA, the humanitarian arm of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

Agencies hope that dialogue can resume as soon as possible to enable those who have been asked to leave to return. All the undersigned NGOs are committed to the people of Sudan and to the provision of humanitarian assistance of the highest quality.

"We are deeply concerned about the effect that this crisis will have on the people of southern Sudan, now and in the future," said Nick Southern, focal point on the Memorandum of Understanding from the forum of international NGOs in Operation Lifeline Sudan.

"We are determined to see negotiations re-started so that we can return to our humanitarian work in southern Sudan. It would be a positive thing to have an agreement that clarifies everyone's responsibilities when it comes to supplying humanitarian aid.

"This would increase the benefit of our work to the vulnerable people of southern Sudan - but this agreement is a work in progress."

Programmes that will be impacted include the polio immunisation campaign and sleeping sickness intervention; water provision; veterinary health programmes including vital rinderpest vaccinations; basic health and drug distributions; and food security.

Concerns about the current draft of the Memorandum include the requirement to work 'in accordance with SRRA objectives' rather than based solely on humanitarian principles; the right of the Sudanese to receive aid in an impartial manner; our ability to target aid according to the greatest need; and clauses that could reduce individual NGOs' ability to guarantee their staff safety.

These concerns were shared by all NGOs in the OLS consortium, including those who signed, when they communicated to the SRRA on 23 February 2000 in a joint statement that 'the decision to sign or not sign is made under duress, with grave implications for continuing humanitarian support to the people of south Sudan'.

"We are talking about principles that affect the long-term credibility and effectiveness of our programmes," said Mr Southern. "We are dismayed that the process has not been completed."

In addition to the desire to re-start discussions with the SRRA, NGOs who have left SPLM-controlled areas are continuing to work in other parts of Southern Sudan.