From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 07:34:57 EST
Obama condemns Khartoum for expelling aid groups
Wed Mar 11, 2009 1:11am GMT
By Ross Colvin
WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday condemned
the Sudanese government's decision to expel aid groups, saying it risked
creating an even greater humanitarian crisis in its western Darfur region.
Sudan expelled 13 aid groups after the International Criminal Court charged
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with war crimes in Darfur, where
4.7 million people rely on foreign assistance for food, shelter and
protection from fighting.
"We have a potential crisis of even greater dimensions than what we already
saw," Obama said in his first response to Khartoum's action last week.
Obama made the remarks after wide-ranging talks with United Nations
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the White House, their first meeting since
Obama was sworn into office on Jan. 20. Both men heaped praise on each
other's leadership after the meeting, which underscored the new
administration's desire for closer ties between Washington and the world
Ban's office said in a statement that he and Obama had agreed on the need
for an international agreement on climate change and committed to pursue one
by the end of the year.
Obama said much of their conversation was devoted to Darfur, and he had
impressed on Ban the importance of the international community making clear
to Khartoum it was "not acceptable to put that many people's lives at risk."
U.N. officials said on Tuesday the expulsion of the aid groups had paralyzed
as much as half of the U.N.'s programs. They said they were unable to fill
the gap left by the NGOs, which handed out food aid, monitored for disease
outbreaks and provided clean water and healthcare across Darfur.
Obama pledged U.S. help in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur,
where U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have died since a
conflict erupted in 2003.
"We need to be able to get those humanitarian organizations back on the
ground," Obama said.
Obama and Ban also discussed the potential threat posed by the global
economic crisis to food supplies in poorer countries, increasing civilian
development aid in Afghanistan, and combating nuclear proliferation.
Ban said he would use the G20 summit in London next month to call on the
leaders of industrialized nations to keep promises of development aid to
poorer nations hard hit by the global economic turmoil.
Ban said it was an encouraging sign that he and Obama were meeting so early
in the latter's presidency and praised the president's "dynamic and
visionary" leadership in combating the economic crisis.
"The United Nations stands ready to work together with you Mr President, to
make this make-or-break year turn into a make-it-work, full of optimism and
resolution," he said.
Relations between the United States and the United Nations were strained
during the Bush administration, especially after conservative John Bolton,
an outspoken critic of the world body, was named U.N. ambassador in 2005.
Bolton and some other officials in former President George W. Bush's
administration considered the United Nations hostile to U.S. interests. But
relations improved in the last few years of Bush's term after Bolton stepped
down and Bush replaced him with a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay
Obama has signaled that he wants to put more emphasis on multilateralism in
U.S. foreign policy, a stance that has been welcomed at the United Nations.
"The United Nations can be an extraordinarily constructive, important
partner in bringing about peace, security and stability to people around the
world. And the secretary-general has shown extraordinary leadership during
his tenure," Obama said, with Ban sitting to his right in the Oval Office.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; editing by Patricia Zengerle)
C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved
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