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Millions of Darfuris at greater risk with aid groups' removal

But the expulsion of 13 aid groups from Sudan is more than a humanitarian crisis. It may reignite regional conflicts in the country – and beyond, say analysts.

By Heba AlyCorrespondent, Scott BaldaufStaff writer / March 11, 2009

EXPELLED: US doctor Rajeev Fernando of Doctors Without Borders packed up in Kharthoum on March 6.


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Sudan's expulsion of more than a dozen international aid groups not only puts the lives of at least 1 million displaced Darfuris at risk of starvation, it could also set off a series of regional conflicts.

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The world's largest humanitarian aid effort is being cut in half overnight. With the biggest groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, Care International, and Oxfam leaving, Darfur watchers expect an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris from camps in Sudan for havens in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. But there's also a rising risk of more armed conflict within Sudan.

Rebel groups fighting with the Khartoum government see an opportunity to recruit more fighters from the current camps, as the hungary turn to them for food and water. And aid groups that have acted as important community bridge builders in fractious towns along the north-south Sudan divide, are leaving. Analysts say their removal threatens the four-year-old north-south peace agreement that ended Africa's longest civil war.

"It is very important to look at the implication beyond Darfur and beyond humanitarian," says Sara Pantuliano, research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, who has studied Sudan for close to two decades. "It will further aggravate people that are already profoundly unhappy about the lack of support postpeace," Ms. Pantuliano says. "People with weapons are every where…. Tensions build high and it can just take a little incident to spark it off."

Khartoum's decision, last week, to expel 13 international aid groups from Sudan was not unexpected after the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes in the Darfur region and issued a warrant for his arrest. Khartoum says that the aid groups have acted as "spies," providing the court's prosecutor with much of the evidence, a charge that the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) all reject.

The United Nations has desperately tried to convince the government to reverse the decision, arguing that their expulsion would leave millions without food, water, and healthcare.