MSF closes one team but remains active in southern Sudan

Some of the leading humanitarian organisations currently active in southern Sudan have been forced to withdraw from the rebel-held territory after they had refused to sign a
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the SRRA, the humanitarian branch of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). NGOs who have failed to sign by the March 1 deadline have been obliged to leave.

The SRRA stated that failure to sign meant NGOs would be in the country with no assurance of security for their staff or operations.

The expulsions come at a time of increased risk of famine for hundreds of thousands of people in southern Sudan during the so-called hunger gap - the period of food shortage between crops.

MSF fears the arbitrary expulsion of leading humanitarian agencies from southern Sudan, particularly those providing emergency food aid, could have dramatic consequences on the population in the coming weeks and months. Last Friday, the UN's World Food Programme launched an urgent appeal for 1.7m people, describing the situation in parts of southern Sudan as "desperate".

MSF is active in southern Sudan with a collection of four teams, all of
whom had the option to choose whether or not to sign the MoU or not. One of the teams was under particular pressure and had to evacuate. The other MSF teams have chosen to sign and remain active in
southern Sudan.

The controversy concerns the amount of control the rebel group should be allowed to exercise over the flows of aid.

The priority for MSF is to continue to provide impartial humanitarian assistance to people in need without hindrance. Under international law, impartial organisations, such as MSF, are fully entitled to gain free access to people in need, set humanitarian priorities and monitor the impact of their aid. Regardless of the MoU, MSF will consider any attempt by the rebel authorities to restict these rights as serious breaches of international law and will reconsider its involvement in the region in the light of such violations.

MSF is committed to resuming all operations in full in the region and remains open to further negotiations with the rebel authorities.