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Sudan defends expulsion of UN official over Darfur reporting

Ivo Freijsen, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Khartoum ©AFP

Sudan has effectively expelled a senior United Nations humanitarian affairs official after accusing him of filing “false reports” about people displaced by the conflict in the country’s war-torn Darfur region.

According to UN sources, Ivo Freijsen, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan, was “de facto expelled” after the Sudanese authorities refused to renew his stay permit which expires on June 6.

Defending the expulsion decision, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour on Wednesday accused Freijsen of exaggerating figures on displacement across the volatile region.

“He published reports which Sudanese officials do not agree with,” Ghandour told reporters, adding, “He published false reports. For example when there were 11,000 people displaced, he reported 100,000 were displaced.”

The top Sudanese official also blamed Freijsen for distorting reporting and of being “non-cooperative” with Sudanese government officials.

“He even said that Sudan was suffering from famine,” Ghandour noted.

This file photo taken on April 12, 2016 shows Sudanese children standing next to a member of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) at the Zamzam camp for internally-displaced persons in Northern Darfur. ©AFP

The UN agency has already denied it had reported about a famine in Sudan.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Sudanese foreign minister said that Khartoum had previously regularly renewed Freijsen’s permit since he arrived in 2014. 

“This man had come to Sudan in January 2014, saying that he was going to be only an acting head of OCHA…and the Foreign Ministry kept renewing his permit until June 2016,” he said.

However, the world body said it had submitted a request on April 10 for a 12-month extension of Freijsen’s stay permit in Sudan. OCHA sources say they had "consistently" communicated his title to Khartoum in all its documents.

UN says Freijsen, who is Dutch, is the fourth senior UN official who has been forced to leave Sudan in the past two years.

Sudanese children stand next to tents in the Zamzam camp for internally-displaced persons in Northern Darfur on April 12, 2016. ©AFP

The world body also says the Sudanese authorities “forced closure of international NGO Tearfund in December 2015 and the de facto expulsion of three international NGO country representatives in recent months.”

The OCHA regularly reports on the humanitarian situation in war-torn areas of Sudan such as Darfur.

Nearly 2.5 million people in Darfur have already been displaced from the region according to the latest UN figures, which also show that over 300,000 people have died there since 2003.

Darfur was a united region since its incorporation into Sudan in 1916 until 1994, when President Bashir divided it into three states. He added two more in 2012.

The country’s ruling National Congress Party insists that the five-state system can better serve the people of Darfur.

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