Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Oxfam Hong Kong halts training programme in China

By Annemarie Evans
BBC News, Hong Kong

Oxfam shop
Oxfam is one of the biggest names in world aid and development

Oxfam Hong Kong has suspended a programme training young graduates in mainland China.

The move comes after notices attributed to China's education ministry appeared at several universities saying the aid agency was trying to infiltrate China.

The notices said Oxfam Hong Kong had ill intentions and that graduates should not sign up to be trained.

The agency says the programme will be suspended until it receives an explanation from the Chinese ministry.

'Cautious agency'

The programme is just one of many that Oxfam Hong Kong carries out in mainland China. It has been run for four years with no prior problems , according to Oxfam Hong Kong's Director General John Sayer.

We have no agenda apart from working for a world that is freer of poverty
John Sayer, Oxfam Hong Kong

The internships - which run from three to six months - place around 10 young graduates with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to train them as programme officers.

The notices, which first appeared at Minzu University in Beijing and later at other institutions, appear to be from the ministry's Communist Party secretariat.

They also cite Oxfam's heads as being in the opposition camp. The chairman of Oxfam Hong Kong is a member of the Democratic Party; another council member is spokeswoman for a group protesting against a high-speed railway link to the mainland.

But Mr Sayer rejects the allegations.

"As far as we're concerned, as an independent NGO, we're free of any particular political party or government or religious group or indeed business group, and we're really proud of our independence.

"And we're not associated or affiliated and we have no agenda apart from working for a world that is freer of poverty," Mr Sayer says.

Some mainland rights activists told Hong Kong media that they were alarmed. Oxfam is seen by them as a very moderate - even over cautious agency - in its dealings with mainland authorities.

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