Sudan: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 3 March

Expelled NGOs call on SRRA to negotiate
Humanitarian agencies which pulled out of south Sudan this week have called for talks with the rebel SPLM/A. They consider they were "forced to leave" over their refusal to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), the humanitarian wing of the SPLM/A. "We are talking about principles that affect the long-term credibility and effectiveness of our programmes .We are dismayed that the process has not been completed," said Nick Southern of Oxfam. "We are determined to see negotiations restarted so that we can return to our humanitarian work." Meanwhile, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) - the largest NGO working in south Sudan - said on Wednesday it would remain operational. "We feel that our presence and activity in support of those in need, the local church and other civic organisations will not be compromised by the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding," said CRS Executive Director Kenneth Hackett in a statement. [See also IRIN Focus on NGO pull-out from SPLM areas:]

Crisis creates void in OLS

UNOCHA on Wednesday confirmed the evacuation of 149 NGO workers from 11 of the 35 organisations working as part of the Operation Lifeline Sudan consortium in SPLM-controlled areas. This represented the "temporary loss of a significant proportion of the humanitarian resources" provided by the OLS and "created a void" in its ability to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to south Sudan, an OCHA press release stated. Emergency response, health, nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation programmes would be hardest hit - with the impact on some parts of Bahr el Ghazal and Jonglei of particular concern, it said. The UN urged donors to maintain their support to the OLS.

EC condemns "unacceptable" SPLA threat

The European Commission (EC) condemned what it called an "explicit threat by the SPLA to the safety of humanitarian agencies" that did not sign the memorandum. The forced evacuation of non-signatory NGOs from SPLA areas "under threat to their lives" was a serious breach of international law, jeopardised the delivery of assistance in line with internationally recognised principles and was "completely unacceptable", an EC press release stated on Tuesday. The EC is to suspend humanitarian aid to SPLM-controlled areas in response to the expulsion of the NGOs, but has decided it would not be appropriate to sanction those NGOs that did sign "under duress" and which remain operational in those areas.

MOU "misunderstood", SPLM says

The SPLM said the SRRA's "good intention" to regularise operations with the NGOs had been "misunderstood and deliberately misinterpreted by some NGOs to mean control of their work by the SRRA". Though some NGOs had accepted the government's "operative regulations", others appeared to "want to operate at will" in southern Sudan, SPLM humanitarian affairs chairman Nhial Deng Nhial said in a statement. "It is those NGOs who do not want to respect our laws, and who do not want transparency and accountability, that are opting to leave on their own," he said. The SPLM
looked forward to working with those "non-political and very caring NGOs who have opted to sign".

The SRRA may be prepared to review the memorandum with those NGOs that signed, but those that did not were "irrelevant" and there would be no negotiations with them on the document, SRRA executive director Elija Malok told IRIN this week.

Washington considers diplomatic presence in Khartoum

The US special envoy to Sudan, Harry Johnston, is due to visit Khartoum on Saturday with a view to "looking into the possibility of maintaining a rotational presence in the (US) embassy there," AFP reported. The move would not involve a full reopening of the mission or normalisation of relations with Sudan, but had value as a "symbol of a possible thaw in relations between the two countries", the report stated. American diplomats who deal with Sudan are currently based in Nairobi but Johnston's visit would contribute to an assessment of "whether conditions now permit rotating, nearly continuous presence by US personnel in Khartoum," AFP quoted State Department Spokesman James Rubin as saying.

SSIA field commander rejoins SPLM

Commander Peter Gadet, the commanding officer of the South Sudan Independence Army (SSIA) in the Bentiu area, has reportedly rejoined the SPLM/A along with all his forces, according to an SPLM statement. The "defection" occurred on Monday and "is of fundamental military and political importance" as it puts the SPLM/A in "firm control" of parts of Bentiu county, the statement said. Gadet was one of the main field commanders of the splinter groups that signed the Khartoum agreement with the government in 1997. The statement also claimed that another SSIA commander, David Reath Malual, had rejoined the SPLM in the Waat area of Eastern Upper Nile along with his forces.


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