US lifts 20-year sanctions on Sudan

Charities criticise the move saying that Sudan has made little progress on human rights

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2016 file photo, students line up outside a classroom with a map of Africa on its wall, in Yei, in southern South Sudan. The United States is poised to permanently lift sanctions on Sudan, U.S. officials said Oct. 5, 2017, recognizing the long-estranged country's progress on human rights and counterterrorism after decades of war and abuses. The Trump administration will complete a process that former President Barack Obama started in January, when he temporarily lifted the penalties. (AP Photo/Justin Lynch, File)
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The United States has lifted long-standing sanctions against Sudan saying it had made progress fighting terrorism and easing humanitarian distress.

President Donald Trump removed a US trade embargo and other penalties that had effectively cut Sudan off from much of the global financial system. The process was begun by former President Barack Obama and opposed by human rights groups.

The US decision marked a major turnaround for the government of President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, who once played host to Osama bin Laden and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur.

However, Sudan will stay on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism — alongside Iran and Syria — which carries a ban on weapons sales and restrictions on US aid, US officials said.

Sudanese officials also remain subject to United Nations sanctions for human rights abuses during the Darfur conflict, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The lifting of sanctions reflects a US assessment that Sudan has made progress in meeting Washington’s demands, including co-operation on counter-terrorism, working to resolve internal conflicts and allowing more humanitarian aid into Darfur and other rebellious border areas, the officials said.

The Trump administration also secured a commitment from Sudan that it would "not pursue arms deals" with North Korea.

Sudan has long been suspected of military ties with North Korea, which is locked in a tense standoff with Washington over its missiles and nuclear weapons programmes. But the official said Khartoum was not believed to have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and that was not expected to change.

Sudan also has recently distanced itself diplomatically from Iran, another US arch-foe.

US officials have said that sanctions relief, which will unfreeze Sudanese government assets, could benefit a range of businesses in Sudan, including its key energy sector.

The economy has been reeling since South Sudan, which holds three-quarters of former Sudan's oil wells, seceded in 2011.

“Sudan looks forward to building normal relations with the United States," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "However, this requires lifting Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism because it does not apply [to Sudan]."

Rights groups see the sanctions removal as premature.

“It sends the wrong message to lift these sanctions permanently when Sudan has made so little progress on human rights," said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

The United States first imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997, including a trade embargo and blocking government assets, for human rights violations and terrorism concerns. Washington layered on more sanctions in 2006 for what it said was complicity in the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.