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Sudan throws out aid workers

Aid efforts could suffer in Sudan after the country yesterday threw out two foreign relief workers. The capital, Khartoum ordered the pair to leave the country three days after an International Criminal Court decision to charge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide over the conflict in Darfur. The Sudanese government said banishing the workers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), was not linked to the genocide accusation. But at the same time it gave no explanation for expelling them. Laura Palatini and Carla Martinez are now due to leave the country on Saturday. Ms Martinez, a Spaniard, is the IOM's director in the war-torn western area of Sudan. And Ms Palatini, an Italian, heads up the organisation's office in South Darfur state.

They were working to oversee the return of hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by the cut-off region's seven year conflict, many of whom sought refuge in huge tent cities where they were prey to rape and abuse. The organisation also transports relief and helps UN agencies and other aid groups. Agence France Presse news service reported that Sudanese officials handed letters to the pair on Wednesday ordering them to leave the country within 72 hours.

The north eastern African country expelled 13 foreign aid organisations last year after the court issued an arrest warrant in March against Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the fighting. As many as 300,000 people have died and more than 2.7 million been driven from their homes in seven years of ethnic and political violence in Darfur, according to United Nations figures. But the government puts the death toll at 10,000. "We have declared two employees of IOM persona non grata. This is absolutely not related to the International Criminal Court," a Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said."The reason is that they practiced many activities that were not related to their duties and their mandate," Moawia Osman Khalid told Reuters news service without saying what those ‘activities’ actually were.

The court warrant put out against Bashir on Monday was based on three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape, and two of war crimes. He has denied the allegations and said they are part of a Western conspiracy.  The move to charge Bashir is "a victory for the people of Darfur and the entire humanity," a spokesman for Darfuri rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement, told Agence France Presse.

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