Sudan expels US aid group over bibles - state media

Sat Jan 31, 2009 2:10pm GMT


By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A United States aid group has been thrown out of Sudan's Darfur region after officials found thousands of Arabic-language bibles stacked in its office, state media reported on Saturday.

Sudanese authorities told the state Suna news agency they found 3,400 copies of Christianity's sacred book in the office run by water charity Thirst No More in North Darfur, a region that is almost entirely Muslim.

Officials told Suna they had decided to expel the Texas-based group "for its violation to the Voluntary Work Act, the Country Agreement and the regulations on registration of organisations in Sudan".

Regulations dictate all aid groups have to give details of their activities to the Sudan government's Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) and are not allowed to start new projects without state approval.

Suna said Thirst No More was supposed to be in the war-torn region supplying drinking water. It had "failed to provide justification" for its ownership of so many bibles, North Darfur's HAC commissioner Osman Hussein Abdalla told the agency.

Thirst No More country director Charlie Michalik, speaking to Reuters in Khartoum, confirmed officials were carrying out an investigation into his organisation's work, but declined to go into further detail.

Thirst No More's website describes its work in Darfur as focused on repairing and drilling water wells and makes no mention of evangelism or other faith-based work.

The vast majority of aid groups in Darfur, including ones with religious foundations, voluntarily sign up to a Red Cross code of conduct that says aid should not be used "to further a particular political or religious standpoint".

Freedom of religion is enshrined in Sudan's constitution, created after a 2005 peace deal ended two decades of war between the mainly Christian and animist south and the mostly Muslim north, which includes Darfur.

But apostasy, which many Muslims see as banned under the Islamic law enforced in north Sudan, remains controversial.

Aid groups are running the world's largest humanitarian operation in Darfur where, international experts say, more than 2.5 million have fled their homes in almost six years of fighting. (Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Sophie Hares)