Sudan's leader warns foreigners in Darfur

Monday, March 9, 2009

EL FASHER, Sudan -- Sudan's president threatened to kick out more aid groups and expel diplomats and peacekeepers on Sunday during his first trip to Darfur after an international court issued an arrest warrant against him for war crimes there.

Sudan has already expelled 13 of the largest aid groups operating in Darfur as part of its response to the International Criminal Court's decision last week to indict him. Sudan has accused them of cooperating with the Netherlands-based ICC.

The statements came as the Sudanese army announced it was moving toward putting its army on full alert by mobilizing three-quarters of its troops, according to the Sudan Media Center, a news agency with close links to the government.

The army renewed its allegiance to President Omar al-Bashir and said it was ready to confront any possible threat, according the report, quoting a statement from the army's chief of staff, Gen. Mohammed Nasreddin.

Cheering supporters

Al-Bashir was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters, including some on horses and camels, in the North Darfur capital of El Fasher. Brandishing a sword, he told the throngs that others could be ordered to leave if they got involved with the ICC case. The rally was attended by a number of Arab diplomats, including Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese. Western envoys did not accompany the president on the trip.

"Those who respect themselves, we will respect them. Don't interfere in something that doesn't concern you," al-Bashir said. "Don't do anything that would harm the country's security and stability."

"Whoever deviates, we will not let them stay, whether a voluntary organization, an envoy, a diplomatic mission or a security force," he added.

A Chinese company signed a contract to build a road in the area during the ceremony, reflecting Sudan's continuing close ties with China despite the crisis.

The ICC accuses al-Bashir of leading a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. Up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes in the conflict since 2003, according to the U.N.

The rally in El Fasher took place far away from the teeming refugee camps where tens of thousands of refugees live after fleeing their homes because of attacks by the government-backed Arab militias.

Aid groups accused

Al-Bashir rejects the charges and refuses to deal with the ICC. Arab and African nations are pressing the U.N. Security Council to defer any prosecution for at least a year, hoping to defuse the crisis.

The crowd waved aloft pictures of al-Bashir as well as posters ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo with an X drawn over his face.

Hundreds lined the streets of El Fasher as al-Bashir paraded through the town waving from the back of an open pickup truck.

Al-Bashir accused aid groups of stealing funds allocated to Darfur, saying only a fraction of the donated money actually makes it to the people.

"We tell them this is not going to continue," he said to the cheering crowd. "We are ready to fill the gap ... we will spend it from our pocket."

The United Nations and humanitarian workers say the order punches a giant hole in the safety net that has kept many Darfur civilians alive during six years of war in the vast, arid region of western Sudan.

Without the groups, 1.1 million people will be without food, 1.5 million without health care, and more than one million without drinking water -- and outbreaks of infectious disease are a greater danger, the U.N. says.

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