Catholic NGO in Darfur `accused of proselytising`
Khartoum: A Catholic aid agency accused of distributing bibles in West Darfur said it will have to close its operations in the region if not allowed to return within days, potentially depriving 400,000 people of emergency food supplies.
"The government has asked us to leave Darfur because they said they couldn`t guarantee our security," Catholic Relief Services (CRS) spokeswoman Sara Fajardo said.
"One of their claims was that we were distributing bibles. This is completely wrong. It is against all our operating principles."
"We are a humanitarian organisation whose work is based on need and not creed. The majority of our staff in Darfur are Muslim," she added.
The aid agency said in a statement late on Saturday that the forced closure of its food programme in West Darfur at the end of March would deprive more than 400,000 people of vital monthly food handouts.
CRS, which also builds schools and provides education, emergency shelter and water and sanitation supplies in Darfur, had been waiting to hear whether it could resume its operations in the region after they were suspended in January.
"If we are not allowed back in, we will be forced to close down our operations," Fajardo said.
CRS would be the latest in a growing list of non-governmental organisations to be forced out of Darfur, at a time when humanitarian work is already failing to meet local needs, according to the United Nations.
Just last month, French aid agency Medecins du Monde was expelled from the eastern part of the Jebel Marra, Darfur`s fertile central highlands, after it was accused of supporting a rebel group active in the area.
Renewed fighting between rebels and the Sudanese Army since December is thought to have resulted in more than 70,000 new arrivals at camps in Darfur for those displaced by the war.
The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in 2003. The government puts the death toll at 10,000.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur in March 2009, immediately prompting Sudan to expel 13 foreign NGOs it accused of spying for the court.
He has since also been charged with genocide.
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