White House meets aid groups over Darfur

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir waves to supporters in Khartoum.
Officials of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration have met with non-governmental organizations currently operating in Darfur, after the Sudanese president announced all aid groups must leave the country.

“U.S. officials listened to the concerns of the NGOs, particularly regarding humanitarian needs that will go unmet in the wake of the expulsion of aid groups,” acting State Department Spokesman Gordon Dugiid told reporters. The move by the Sudanese government to throw out all aid groups comes a day after the International Criminal Court at The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for a five-year campaign of violence in Darfur. The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict in western Sudan’s Darfur region, and 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes. Duguid said that at Thursday’s meeting administration officials explained U.S. efforts to get the government of Sudan to reconsider its decision. “The officials expressed deep concern that if carried out, the Sudanese threat could prompt a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions in Sudan,” Duguid said. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday warned that the Sudanese move could cause “irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations” in the country. “The operations of these agencies are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur,” a statement issued by the U.N. said.

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“These organizations provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it in a neutral and impartial manner.” Both the United Nations and the United States, along with the rest of the international community, are urging the Sudanese government to reconsider the decision. Meanwhile, a defiant al-Bashir was seen smiling, dancing and speaking to a huge crowd of supporters Thursday. The streets of the capital, Khartoum, were filled with people who raised their hands in the air to cheer al-Bashir, who raised both fists defiantly in the air. The crowd was filled with posters and banners featuring al-Bashir’s face or the flag of Sudan. The one banner written in English read, “We are all with al-Bashir.” Al-Bashir gave a fervent speech to the crowd, denouncing the United States, its Western allies and Israel. At one point, the crowd repeated in English, “Down, down, USA!” Music before and after the speech got everyone moving, including the president, who smiled broadly and raised his walking stick in the air. A camouflaged helicopter swooped over the crowd. Angry but peaceful demonstrations took place in cities throughout Sudan on Wednesday after the warrant was announced, according to the United Nations.

Government air and ground forces conducted what the United Nations called a “show of force” in parts of Darfur, where the situation was “calm but unpredictable.” Sudan has angrily rejected the accusations and the indictment. Kamal Obaid, Sudan’s state minister of information and communications, called the ICC a “white man’s tribunal” and the arrest warrant “an insult.”