Sudan: IRIN News Briefs, Thursday 9 March

Human Rights Watch urges SPLM to negotiate with NGOs
The non-governmental body Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) to talk to NGOs that pulled out of south Sudan last week, rather than sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the rebels. "The SPLA is behaving irresponsibly ... it has imposed an artificial and unnecessary deadline that puts many, many civilian lives at risk," HRW spokesman Jemera Rone said in a statement. "If the SPLA wanted to expel agencies that provide essential services to the civilian population [of south Sudan], it should have arranged a transition period so that other agencies could be brought in to cover civilian needs." The 11 international NGOs that pulled out had handled about 75 percent of humanitarian aid in SPLM-controlled areas, and HRW cautioned that it would not be easy for other agencies to overcome the "formidable logistical obstacles" to operating in south Sudan. "To reinvent the supply network is not something that can be done overnight," said Rone.

SPLM denies expelling relief agencies

The SPLM reiterated its position on Tuesday that no NGOs had been expelled or forced to leave its area of control in south Sudan. Spokesman Samson Kwaje said they had "opted to leave of their own volition" rather than have their activities regularised through a formal association between them and the rebels' Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA). "To misinform the international community that they were expelled is not only false propaganda but a malicious ploy," Kwaje said in a statement. He called on donors not to be misled or cut funding, since the memorandum was "neither about control nor sovereignty, but rather good organisation and smooth operations".

Meanwhile, SRRA executive director Elija Malok on Monday said agencies which signed the MOU that the situation would be assessed over three months to see how it was working, and a review of its terms would be possible then, humanitarian sources told IRIN. Malok last week insisted that NGOs which had not signed were "irrelevant" and would not be included in any such negotiations.

How NGOs lined up on the MOU

Of the NGOs active in the coordination body, Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), 11 refused to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, namely: CARE International, MSF-Holland, German Agro Action, Healthnet, Oxfam, Save the Children (UK), Veterinaires sans frontieres (Belgium and Germany), World Vision, Medecins du Monde and the Carter Center. Sixteen NGOs active in the OLS chose to sign the agreement. They included: ADRA, AMREF, AAH, ARC, ACROSS, CRS, CCM, International Aid Sweden, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Medair, MSF-Belgium, Norwegian Church Aid, Radda Baren (Save the Children - Sweden), Tear Fund and Veterinaires sans frontieres (VSF) Switzerland. Some 22 NGOs who do not operate within the OLS umbrella, including MSF France and Switzerland, signed the agreement with the SRRA, as did eight indigenous NGOs.

Government bombs NGO compounds

Two people were killed and about a dozen injured when a Sudanese government aircraft bombed a hospital compound of the American NGO, Samaritan's Purse, in the rebel-held town of Lui, 130 km northwest of Juba last week. The agency's Nairobi-based logistics coordinator Andrew Kinyanjui, quoted by the Associated Press agency (AP), said it was the first time the hospital - with a staff of 82 - had been bombed. The attack took place on the deadline day for NGOs to sign the SRRA's Memorandum of Understanding. Samaritan's Purse was one of those NGOs outside the OLS coordination body that signed the agreement. The head of Samaritan's Purse Franklin Graham - son of the evangelist preacher Rev Billy Graham - said the US was not doing enough to stop President Omar al-Bashir's government waging war on southern Sudan, AP added.

A government Antonov bomber also bombed the compound of the Irish NGO, Concern, in Yirol on Saturday, the agency's Sudan programme manager Ann O'Mahony told IRIN on Wednesday. The attack, in which two bombs hit the compound, was the first on Yirol, in the southern Lakes region of Bahr el Ghazal, in over a year. However Concern staff were worried that Antonovs had again flown overhead on Tuesday and Wednesday. Yambio and Maridi, in a line between Yirol and the DRC border, had also been bombed in recent days, O'Mahoney added. She said she did not believe Concern or any other NGOs were being targeted for having signed the Memorandum of Understanding. She considered that the bombings were merely to terrorise the population generally.

US condemns bomb attacks

The US on Wednesday condemned the Lui and Yirol attacks, as well as the recently intensified bombing of relief sites, hospital facilities, schools and civilian population centres in the Nuba Mountains, Western Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal. "The bombing in Bahr el Ghazal contravenes the Sudanese government's own ceasefire agreement on the province," Department of State spokesman James Rubin said in a press statement. The fact the Sudanese government continued these "vicious attacks" during and immediately after the first mission to the country by US Special Envoy for Sudan Harry Johnston "calls into question the sincerity of the government's professed desire to improve relations with the US and to redress the grave human rights abuses in Sudan," Rubin said. "Calling these attacks 'a mistake' is neither credible nor sufficient. These bombings must stop." Johnston said on Monday he had achieved "a breakthrough in dialogue" with Khartoum.

Prelude to "full military offensive" - SPLA

"In what appears to be a prelude to a planned full military offensive, the regime has been carrying out massive bombardments of soft non-military targets," the SPLA said in a statement released in Nairobi. Local leaders continued to believe that the increased intensity of bombing raids, combined with a massive military build-up in the south, was closely connected to the oil pipeline that flowed through the Nuba area, media and humanitarian sources told IRIN. The government objective appeared to be to create a "cordon sanitaire" around the oilfields and pipeline in order to assure secure extraction, they added.

Court accepts legality of Bashir's state of emergency

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday confirmed last week's provisional judgement dismissing a petition against President Omar Bashir's dissolution in December of the National Assembly and suspension of parts of the constitution. Chairman of the court, Judge Jalal Ali Lutfi, ruled that issuing the decrees, which also established a three-month state of emergency in Sudan, was within Bashir's powers "due to the necessity to preserve the security and safety of the homeland", Sudanese television reported. The dismissal of the assembly occurred in the context of a power struggle between Bashir and former speaker of parliament Hassan al-Turabi, in which Turabi was working to have the assembly curb the president's powers. Bashir on Wednesday welcomed the decision, saying the measures had been "important and timely" but would hopefully also be "limited and temporary". "We will issue more resolutions that will complete those issued on 4th Ramadan [12 December]," Bashir's statement added.

Women activists call for input at IGAD peace talks

A women's peace group attending a 10-day training and study tour in South Africa called on Monday for representation at the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace talks between the Khartoum government and the SPLM, taking place in Kenya. Group representative Rebecca Okwaci also called for South African "solidarity and moral
support" in helping "discourage any elements that will contribute to the escalation of the war", the South African Press Agency (SAPA) reported. The 35 Sudanese women involved represented the government of Sudan, the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Nuba and Southern Women's Groups, a civil society group from Khartoum, the SPLM, the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF) and the Non Partisan Group (NPG) based in Nairobi.

Sudan, Ethiopia strengthen relations

The fourth meeting of the Ethiopian-Sudanese joint ministerial commission ended on Monday with a resolution to reactivate the joint border commission. Its tasks would include facilitating the movement of people and goods, as well as tackling potentially contentious border issues. The ministers also agreed to establish a joint political committee to convene every six months, and signed understandings on the use of ports, transport and communications, oil products, trade, water resources and investment, the official Suna news agency reported. Sudanese and Ethiopian Foreign Ministers Mustafa Osman Ismail and Seyoum Mesfin also agreed to support Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh's peace initiative on Somalia as a step towards regional peace and development, it added.


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