KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's president said Monday he wants all international aid groups out of the country within a year, insisting they can drop off supplies "at airports or seaports" and let Sudanese organizations take care of it.
President Omar al-Bashir has already expelled 13 large foreign aid agencies, most of them operating in Darfur, accusing them of spying for an international court that issued an arrest warrant against him on March 4 for war crimes in the western Sudanese region.
He also shut down three local aid groups, including one of the largest local groups operating in Darfur. The United Nations said those expulsions would leave millions at risk of a humanitarian crisis.
Speaking to a rally of security forces in the capital, Khartoum, the president said all foreign relief groups should go.
"We directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to Sudanize voluntary work," he told a crowd of thousands shouting their support for the president and waving their guns in the air.
"Within a year, we don't want to see any foreign aid group dealing with a Sudanese citizen," al-Bashir said. "If they want to bring relief, let them drop it at airports or seaports. Let the national organizations deal with our citizens."
Al-Bashir didn't elaborate on his directive but was apparently talking about aid groups operating in all of Sudan.
The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court seeking al-Bashir's arrest accuses him of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.
Sudan denies the charges and says the figures are exaggerated.
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The government had warned that issuing the warrant could lead to spontaneous revenge attacks by enraged Sudanese, though it pledged to defend aid workers and diplomats in the country.
Sudanese officials said three foreign aid workers and a Sudanese man kidnapped for three days in Darfur last week were taken by a group seeking to retaliate for the court's decision.
At Monday's rally, al-Bashir again railed against foreign aid groups, which he accuses of providing the court with false testimony against him and his government and of profiting from the Darfur conflict. Sudan, he said, must be cleared of "spies and agents" who "trade" in the Darfur crisis.
He warned remaining aid groups to respect Sudan's sovereignty or "pay the price."
In recent days, government officials have stressed that the anger is particularly directed at private charity and aid groups and not at U.N. agencies.
Al-Bashir said Monday that his government is ready to fill the gap. Late Sunday, he attended a fundraising conference by private businesses and civil groups in Sudan that raised some $115 million in pledges for Darfur aid.
Al-Bashir appeared at Monday's rally in a military uniform and was flanked by his defense minister, intelligence chief and interior minister.
He praised his security forces, saying they were ready to defend the country against neocolonialists eyeing Sudan's resources.
"We know the road is full of risks," he said. "We know they will fight us and will continue to fight us. ... But would a leader with men like you be scared or be broken?"
Groups of security men raced to near the podium where al-Bashir was standing, waving their guns in support. Some shouted: "We won't be humiliated. We won't be insulted. We will not obey the Americans."
In recent rallies, al-Bashir had singled out the United States for criticism, accusing it of supporting the ICC and of committing crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.