Home | News    Tuesday 14 June 2005

UN expects Sudan to drop charges against aid workers

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KHARTOUM, June 14 (Reuters) - The United Nations expects the Sudanese authorities to drop charges against two officials of the Dutch branch of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Tuesday, a senior U.N. official said.

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Paul Foreman

"I have reason to assume that the charges against the two MSF officials will be dropped today," U.N. envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk told reporters in Khartoum.

"That would be very positive because that might make it possible that MSF, which has saved the lives of tens of thousands, in particular children, in Sudan, can continue that humanitarian work," he added.

The two officials, Vincent Hoedt and his British superior Paul Foreman, were arrested in May over an MSF report about hundreds of rapes in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region.

They were released on bail pending an investigation into charges of spying, publishing false information and destabilising Sudanese society.

The MSF office in Khartoum said discussions were continuing with the Sudanese authorities and they had not yet heard from the authorities that charges would be dropped.

Officials at the office of Sudan’s attorney-general were not immediately available for comment.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said earlier this month he saw no reason why the two international aid workers had been arrested and he pledged to solve the problem in talks with the United Nations, which criticised the arrests.

But the attorney-general, Mohamed Farid, said at the time that authorities had opened a criminal case over the MSF rape report, which was published in March and which details 500 rapes over 4-1/2 months in Darfur. He said the report was false.

Farid said the maximum penalty for the crimes was three years in jail and permanent expulsion from the country.

The MSF report contained anonymous accounts by victims of their ordeals, including being held and raped repeatedly for several days, beaten and even arrested.

The report, which received full backing from the United Nations, said more than 80 percent of the victims identified their attackers as militiamen or soldiers.

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