Global aid groups express outrage at ban by Ukraine rebels

25th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Global relief organisations voiced outrage and disbelief on Friday over Ukrainian separatists' decision to ban 10 Western health groups for "grave violations of local laws."

The pro-Russian eastern region of Lugansk on Thursday blacklisted such world-renowned organisations as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Czech Republic's People in Need (PIN).

But it spared the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) -- targeted earlier this month for allegedly breaching fire safety laws.

The rebels on Friday also denied reports that they had kicked out United Nations workers from the war-torn industrial region.

"UN representatives are continuing their work from the People's Republic of Lugansk," the self-proclaimed region's cabinet chief Vasiliu Nikitin told AFP by telephone.

But the various health relief groups said it was hard to fathom that they would be forced to leave one of Europe's most devastated corners for apparent political reasons.

MSF said it was alarmed by the decision and denounced it as "unacceptable".

"We have been one of the few organisations with significant medical activities in the area and we are therefore extremely surprised and disappointed about the events," MSF spokeswoman Corinne Baker told AFP.

"There has been no physical threat of violence against MSF staff. However, the presence of armed men inside our office was certainly a way to try to intimidate our team, which we find unacceptable."

The Czech Republic's PIN group said it had been given no clear explanation as to why they were being shut down.

"We are not aware of having violated any rules," PIN spokesman Jan Flemr told Prague's CTK news agency.

"If 10 out of eleven organisations in the place have breached them at the same time and the UN humanitarian coordination says it's a serious breach of the international humanitarian law, the problem will rather be on the other side."

- 'No meaningful assistance' -

The United Nations estimates that the 17-month conflict on the European Union's eastern frontier has claimed the lives of nearly 8,000 people and injured almost 18,000 -- most of them civilians.

The war has also devastated hospitals and left staff short of basic medicines and reliable electricity supplies required to perform life-saving operations.

Yet the militia have taken an extremely cautious view of any Western presence in areas under their control.

They rely on humanitarian assistance from Russia -- who has long denied fomenting or supporting the revolt -- and view the United States and European Union as misguided allies of Kiev's new pro-Western government.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said Russia's 38th convoy of 64 vehicles had crossed into the Donetsk region without undergoing required checks from Western monitors or Ukrainian customs officials.

Kiev believes that the trucks provide very little food and are instead packed with powerful weapons the militias cannot otherwise obtain.

Lugansk leader Nikitin said the banned International Rescue Committee -- founded by Albert and currently chaired by Britain's David Milliband - and PIN "provided no meaningful assistance at all."

He added that MSF was storing "banned drugs" that had no license in either Russia or Ukraine.

MSF has previously denied the claim.


© 2015 AFP

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