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Politics | Society

Aid for Sudan, Somalia cut after cartoon violence

afrol News, 9 February - Several major Danish and Norwegian humanitarian aid organisations have stopped or interrupted their activities in Muslim countries where reactions to the Mohammed cartoons have turned violent. In Sudan and Somalia, a large number of refugees will be the main victims of these withdrawals.

In western Sudan, around 100 demonstrators last week threw stones at the premises and vehicles of one Norwegian and one Danish humanitarian aid organisation in Nyala, Darfur in Sudan. Anti-Scandinavian protests have spread to most parts of the country. In north-eastern Somalia, a 14 year old boy was killed as stone throwing demonstrators clashed with the police.

These are the incidents that most have scared Danish and Norwegian aid organisations in Africa so far. These violent reactions however are modest compared to the attacks on Scandinavian diplomatic representations, peacekeeping forces and organisations in the Middle East and South Asia. Many fear that the worst has yet to come in Muslim parts of Africa.

Consequently, mainly Danish and Norwegian humanitarian organisations have reviewed the security situation of their staff in the Muslim world. In Palestine, most Scandinavian peacekeepers and aid workers have been evacuated. Also earthquake victims in Pakistan and tsunami victims in Indonesia have seen a reduction in Nordic aid workers - but not in relief funds.

In Muslim Africa, most humanitarian organisations are on high alert and assessing the security threat from day to day. So far, staff withdrawals have only been registered from several parts of Sudan and to a lesser degree Somalia.

The Danish Church Aid (DCA) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) are the two humanitarian groups most affected by the protests in Sudan and Somalia. The DCA saw its offices in Darfur, western Sudan, being "the target of stone-throwing and demonstration" and has withdrawn its staff from Sudan "for security reasons".

DCA press spokesman Thomas Ravn-Pedersen said the organisation was preparing to "open new offices in southern Sudan," but has now put these plans on ice. The unrest had affected the humanitarian organisation's work in the entire African Horn region, DCA said in a press release.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which is one of the main international organisations aiding internally displaced persons in Sudan, has felt the pressure for more than one week, when it had to halt its work and "introduce extra security measures" for its more than 400 workers in northern Sudan. The UN had warned the NRC and other international aid organisations in the country that the security situation was deteriorating.

At the same time, NRC representative Jens Mjaugedal announced that the organisation's work in the Darfuri town of Nyala also would be halted. "Freezing our humanitarian operations will have consequences for the population which is already seriously affected by the conflict in Sudan. NRC assists the Sudanese authorities in running the largest camp for internally displaced persons in Darfur, which hosts more than 100,000 people," said Mr Mjaugedal.

Other large organisations affected by the protests are the Danish and Norwegian national committees of the Red Cross. The Danish Red Cross has evacuated its Danish staff from regions of Pakistan and Indonesia, where they were assisting earthquake and tsunami victims. The Norwegian Red Cross has evacuated some few - but not all - Norwegians from Lebanon, Palestine and Indonesia. Both organisations remain a normal activity level in Africa but are "continuously evaluating the security situation" for their staff in Muslim countries.

Other main Norwegian humanitarian organisations today denied press reports that they were pulling out from Muslim countries. "Norwegian Church Aid has no plans to reduce or make changes to its working routines in Muslim countries. No Norwegians have been sent home," the organisation said in a press release. Also Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) rejected "media reports all over the world" and said it was continuing all its operations in Muslim countries.

Denmarks Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS) also denies its activities have been affected by the anti-Danish riots. MS quite contrarily announced that it has "opened a dialogue centre in Lebanon" to help "taring down stereotypes and bogeys" between Danes and Arabs.

Politicians in Denmark and Norway have regretted the need for these organisations to scale down their work, thus affected the most needy in parts of Asia and Africa. Especially tsunami victims, earthquake victims and refugees now became victimised again, they lamented. This is the first time Scandinavian humanitarian organisations and citizens have been the target of public wrath in large parts of the world.

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