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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06ASMARA970 2006-11-21 11:47:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Asmara
Cable title:  

ERITREA EXPELS TWO MORE NGOs

Tags:   PHUM PGOV EAID ER SU 
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1. Summary: The Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) ordered
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Samaritan's Purse(SP) and the
International Rescue Committee(IRC) to terminate operations in
Eritrea by November 15, 2006. In a letter dated October 31 and
signed by the Minister of Labor and Human Welfare Askulu Menkerios,
the GSE notified both NGOs that due to the signing of the Eastern
Sudan Peace Agreement(ESPA) they must discontinue operating their
Eastern Sudan programs from their base in Asmara, including halting
Samaritan's Purse's cross-border humanitarian food distributions in
Sudan via Eritrea. IRC, which has programs in Eritrea as well as
cross-border programs for Eastern Sudan through Eritrea, was told to
stop all development operations including those in Eritrea. Both
NGOs plan to transfer their assets for Eastern Sudanese programs to
the Beja Relief Organization(BRO) in Eastern Sudan. Their ability to
deliver humanitarian aid to Eastern Sudan, however, will rely on
gaining GOS permission to work in Eastern Sudan from within Sudan.
End Summary.



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CLOSING UP SHOP


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2. Both IRC and SP received identical letters in early November
informing them they would need to close down operations in Eritrea.
Each protested the closure to no avail. In a November 15 meeting
with Poloff and the Humanitarian Program Assistant, the acting local
director of Samaritan's Purse, said the termination was "not a
surprise but a disappointment because of the arbitrary date chosen
to close our operation." The letter explained that due to the
signing of the ESPA, the "cross-border operations were no longer
required." The same day, the IRC country director confirmed that IRC
had received an identical letter. IRC's requests for permission to
finish several small, on-going projects went unanswered and
eventually IRC decided to move ahead with the close-out. The GSE
regional governors for Anseba and Debub told the IRC director that
they had been informed of the decision nearly two months ago and had
unsuccessfully lobbied the Ministry on IRC's behalf.



3. The GSE verbally agreed that both NGOs would be permitted to
transfer all of their in-country assets to the Beja Relief
Organization for continuation of their Eastern Sudan programs. Both
IRC and SP representatives report, however, that their programs in
Eastern Sudan will remain suspended until they obtain agreement from
the Government of Sudan to provide support in Eastern Sudan from
within Sudan. (Note: Historically, the GOS has strictly controlled
NGO operations in Eastern Sudan and restricted service delivery by
NGOs based within Sudan. End note.) SP distributed the last of
their Eritrean-based private food stock of lentils, CSB and oil last
week, providing Sudanese recipients both in Eritrea and in Sudan
with approximately 45 days of food. (Note: SP provided humanitarian
aid to an estimated 32,000 Sudanese Beja who have historically moved
back and forth across the border. These individuals are not clearly
either refugees or IDPs and it is not known if the GSE will allow
these Sudanese Beja to remain in Eritrea. SP has requested
permission from the GSE to continue to provide assistance to these
individuals. End Note.) The remaining SP assets to be transferred
consist mainly of furniture, office equipment and supplies, a few
vehicles and medical supplies. IRC's situation and asset list look
nearly the same. IRC anticipates, though, that the GOS may permit
some of their programs previously operated cross-border to continue
with a base in Sudan as IRC has staff detailed to the BRO and has
had limited access to Eastern Sudan from within Sudan already.



--------------------------

--
CONTINUING OPERATIONS IN SUDAN, WILL IT HAPPEN?


--------------------------

--



4. Both IRC and SP profess to have strong support from Eastern
Sudanese leaders for their work there. According to SP, the head of
the Beja Congress, Mussa Mohammed, wants SP to continue their
operations, in particular the food distribution. Other local
leaders, including the Wali in Kessala, have also expressed their
desire for the programs to continue. Until the GOS decides if it
will allow for SP to operate programs in Eastern Sudan from their
headquarters in Khartoum the hospital, medical program and food
distribution will be halted. With no history of providing services
from within Sudan to the East and with SP's programs in Darfur
already strictly limited by the GOS, SP's acting local director
expressed uncertainty regarding SP's future in Eastern Sudan. For
IRC, the situation is slightly different as they had GOS support
already for some of their operations in Eastern Sudan and have
infrastructure that is in place already. Yet, IRC is aware they
will need the GOS to consent to operate their programs and to allow
IRC staff to travel to Eastern Sudan and provide supplies and
equipment for the programs.



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IRC OPERATIONS IN ERITREA SHUT DOWN TOO


--------------------------





5. Whereas SP was only using Eritrea as transit for its programs in
Sudan, IRC had been managing both cross-border and Eritrean programs
from Asmara. IRC has operated in Eritrea in the Debub and Anseba
regions since 2001, and had USD 4.4 million committed for water and
sanitation projects. In terminating IRC's NGO registration in
Eritrea, the GSE decision also shuts-down IRC's operations within
Eritrea. The IRC director told Poloff that when he discussed the
closure with Minister Askulu, she expressed total surprise that IRC
had projects within Eritrea. After IRC's closure, that is
anticipated by November 29, unused funds for these Eritrean programs
will be returned to the donors.



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SAMARITAN'S PURSE WILL TRY TO RE-REGISTER


--------------------------





6. Despite being asked to close down, SP acting local director said
SP wants to remain in Eritrea. SP's director indicated to Poloff
that they plan to explore re-registering the NGO with the Ministry
of Labor and Human Welfare with the intent of providing programs
within Eritrea. SP is considering a proposal to the GSE on
wheelchair distribution or other development programs.



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COMMENT


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7. Following on the heels of the signing of the ESPA, the closing
by the GSE of IRC and SP came as no surprise. With peace in Eastern
Sudan and normalizing relations between Sudan and Eritrea, from the
GSE's perspective there is no need for SP and IRC to continue
operating programs in Sudan via Eritrea. The signing of the
agreement also offered a convenient excuse in what appears to be a
continuing GSE trend of removing NGOs from Eritrea. The need for
foreign assistance services in Eastern Sudan, however, remains.
Whether SP and IRC will be able to continue their programs in Sudan
will likely depend on the level of pressure exerted from the people
of Eastern Sudan and upon the GOS willingness to loosen the
restrictions on NGOs within Sudan. End Comment.

DELISI