London and Khartoum lock horns over expulsion

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PETER STREAMS, the British ambassador to Sudan, flew back to Khartoum last night, but Britain's seat at Sudan's Independence Day celebrations today will remain empty because of the row leading to his expulsion.

The Foreign Office told the Sudanese charge d'affaires in London, Abdul Rahman Bakhit, yesterday of the Government's 'profound dissatisfaction and regret at the unjustifiable decision' to expel Mr Streams and demanded that the decision be reversed by Tuesday. Mr Streams has been given two weeks to leave the country.

According to the Foreign Office, Mr Bakhit said Mr Streams had been an obstacle to attempts to improve the relationship between London and Khartoum, and the charge criticised the ambassador's contacts with opposition figures. Mr Bakhit said the cancellation of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Khartoum was not the main reason for the ambassador's expulsion, but contributed to it.

Sir Michael Burton, under-secretary for the Middle East, described the explanation as inadequate. Sudanese sources said Mr Streams' high-handed manner had angered many in Khartoum, as had his attempts to organise diplomatic boycotts of big government events - such as anniversary celebrations of the coup which brought the present regime to power.

It appears that Khartoum has decided it can do without full representation with Britain, and is unlikely to back down. There is little Britain can do in the short term beyond a tit-for-tat expulsion, but in the longer term it could work for Sudan's removal from international bodies.

Britain stopped bilateral aid to Sudan in 1991 after the government released Palestinians who were convicted of killing five Britons in Khartoum in a bomb attack. Britain was once one of Sudan's biggest trading partners but there is only about pounds 40m of trade between the two countries.

Today's celebrations in Khartoum, marking the 38th anniversary of independence from Britain, are expected to be filled with invective against the former colonial rulers. Northern Islamic Sudan has always felt Britain favoured the southern Christians and encouraged secession. London is also the main centre for exiled opposition to the present government; all the main opposition parties and Sudanese newsletters are based here.

Dr George Carey, speaking by satellite telephone from southern Sudan yesterday, said that the expulsion saddened him. He is touring southern Sudan, from Khartoum's point of view illegally, having entered by private aircraft from Nairobi. It was not this journey but cancelling the Khartoum visit that angered the government.