Report by Gethin Chamberlain, chief correspondent at the Scotsman. Last year, Mr Chamberlain was one of the first reporters on the ground in Sudan:
A BRITISH aid worker arrested by the Sudanese government yesterday accused the Khartoum regime of hurting its own people by threatening to prosecute aid workers.
Paul Foreman was arrested on Monday and spent much of yesterday being questioned by Sudan’s attorney-general after being charged with crimes against the state, including spying.
The Foreign Office said it was doing what it could for Mr Foreman, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières Holland, and added that it had "grave concerns" about the treatment of aid workers in Darfur.
Vince Hoedt, MSF Holland’s Darfur co-ordinator, was also arrested yesterday, as was an interpreter who translated for Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, during his visit to Darfur last week.
Mr Foreman, who is originally from Worthing, told The Scotsman that he found the circumstances of his arrest "extraordinary".
The Sudanese government decided to prosecute him after taking exception to an MSF report which highlighted more than 500 rape cases in Darfur that had been documented by MSF medical staff.
Speaking from Khartoum, Mr Foreman said: "What I regret is that this is totally time consuming. All that this is doing is hurting Sudanese people."
He accused the Sudanese government of obstructing the efforts of aid agencies who were attempting to help the victims of the genocide in Darfur.
"Humanitarian access is not good now. I think that the African Union has started to have some effect but there is a long way to go," he said.
"These guys are obliged to give us space to work and they are not doing that, by looting and shooting at us, by demanding that we only go with their consent and with their escort. Wherever the ground is controlled by men with guns they attempt to use us for political ends."
He said the Sudanese government appeared to have been embarrassed by the publication of the rape report and had used whatever means it could find to undermine the agency.
"We have undergone two months of propaganda and war by media," he said.
He said he had been charged with publishing false information, action likely to cause social unrest in Sudan and spying, but had been offered a way out. He said he had declined.
"They said if I would denounce the report as false that would be acceptable, which I’m not going to do because I stand by it. They said I could submit some of the details of the rape survivors but that is covered by the doctor-patient relationship. The other possible exit is that I could drag some of my own staff into court and testify but that is putting MSF and me on trial for crimes committed by Sudanese against Sudanese."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have been advocating unrestricted access for agencies operating in Sudan and we are continuing to raise the need for unfettered access and non interference by the government."
She said that Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, had raised the matter with Sudanese ministers and discussions were continuing at an ambassadorial level.
Photo: An injured Sudanese is treated at a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic in Darfur. Picture: NIC Bothma/EPA/Scotsman Wed 1 Jun 2005