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For those trying to call attention to Darfur, the indictment of Sudan's president came as a welcome move. The International Criminal Court indicted President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, yet some of the first reactions are not welcoming at all. China, Russia, the Arab League and the African Union all contend this arrest warrant will undermine peace efforts, and millions of people struggling in Darfur will suffer consequences. The indicted president has ordered the expulsion of more than a dozen international aid groups. These are groups that are working there to provide basic life necessities. NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.
GWEN THOMPKINS: By the time the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur, the Sudanese government was ready to act.
The government ordered some of the biggest Western humanitarian aid groups and homegrown agencies that are working in the region to shut down. The authorities revoked all licenses. They told the international aid groups to hand over their laptops, personal computers, staff lists, bank account numbers and, oh yes, to get out of northern Sudan.
Alun McDonald is a spokesman for Oxfam UK in Nairobi.
Mr. ALUN MCDONALD (Spokesman, Oxfam UK): Nobody knew what to expect. We didn't know how the government might react. We certainly had no reason to believe that they would react as they have done.
THOMPKINS: Judges for the International Criminal Court have been considering the case against Bashir since July of last year. And in the months leading to Wednesday's arrest warrant, aid groups in Darfur have been preparing for the humanitarian equivalent of a hurricane. They began retrenching their foreign staff, gathering their possessions close, and looking around for signs of what was to come.
Kurt Tjossem is a regional director of the International Rescue Committee, which has relief operations in Darfur and across Sudan.
Mr. KURT TJOSSEM (Regional Director, International Rescue Committee): We decided to, in preparation for the announcement, that we would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday just in case there's any sort of demonstrations, and then again anticipating opening up on Sunday. We were able to, at the very least, prepare for a security event, but certainly not for something like this.
THOMPKINS: Anyone who's weathered a hurricane knows that you're never quite sure you'll get a direct hit until the storm makes landfall. And for many Sudanese, Wednesday may have been Katrina.
The aid groups targeted by the government supply millions of people in Darfur and other areas of the country with clean water, sanitation, food and medical care. Some of these groups have been in Sudan for almost 30 years. They now have less than 30 days to appeal to the government to continue their work. But Sudanese leaders have implied that aid groups conspired with the International Criminal Court against Bashir.
Meini Nicolai directs operations for Doctors Without Borders, Belgium. She's speaking to reporters in Johannesburg.
Ms. MEINI NICOLAI (Director of Operations, Doctors Without Borders, Belgium): We have not given any information out. We think it's a non-respect of an independent humanitarian organization to be linked to political issues.
THOMPKINS: Nicolai said her organization is outraged by the government's actions. But outrage may not go far enough to restore what has been lost to the Sudanese people this week. If the Sudanese government would or could feed its poor, shelter them and give them the schooling and medical care they need, humanitarian aid groups would be redundant. But these groups have thousands of foreign and domestic staff all over northern Sudan - for about 30 more days.
Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.
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