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Oxfam stops China programme after 'warning'

HONG KONG, Feb 24 (AFP) - Oxfam Hong Kong said Wednesday it had suspended a training programme in China after notices allegedly sent by Beijing to mainland universities accused the charity of having "ulterior motives."

The notice, attributed to the ministry of education, said the group was trying to "infiltrate China" and asked students not to join the programme because of the alleged involvement of human rights groups.

It called on all universities and students to "raise their alert and realise that Oxfam Hong Kong has ulterior motives to recruit our university volunteers."

Oxfam said it was "mystified" and had contacted the ministry of education for clarification.

"We will suspend the programme until we find out from the ministry of education as to why this has happened," said Howard Liu, director of Oxfam Hong Kong's China Unit.

The ministry said it would look into the matter, but did not say whether it was the author of the notice, he said.

The programme, started in 2005, trained about 10 mainland university students each year in the area of development work. Liu said it did not involve any rights organisations.

John Sayer, director general of Oxfam Hong Kong, said he hoped the Chinese government would directly approach his group if "we have gone into areas we shouldn't have."

"It's quite mystifying, as the programme had already been carried out for four years."

The notice, summaries of which could also be found in some other university websites, was on Tuesday removed from the student recruitment webpage of Minzu University of China in Beijing.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters he was "not aware of the specifics of the issue" but added that Beijing demanded foreign groups respect its laws.

"The Chinese government welcomes these organisations and their participation in the modernisation drive of the country," he said.

"But at the same time, we demand that these organisations respect Chinese laws and operate legally."

The charity, an independent affiliate of Oxfam International, has run development and relief projects in the poor and remote areas of China since late-1980s.

MySinchew 2010.02.24



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