(Corrects 16th paragraph to say 90-95 percent of supplies
instead of 90-95 supply sets)
* Medical aid group UOSSM says troops loot, burn medical
* UOSSM says Syria is confiscating aid sent by official
* Says 11 trucks with WFP food aid went missing
* ICRC, WFP say assertions unsubstantiated
By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Nov 7 A medical aid group said on
Wednesday Syrian troops are seizing foreign aid and reselling it
or channeling it towards government loyalists, putting millions
of lives at risk.
"When the regime attacks one of our medical facilities,
whether it's a hospital or something else, they load up
everything they can carry, and they burn the rest," said Tawfik
Chamaa, a Geneva-based doctor and spokesman for the Union of
Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM).
"They take as much as they can, and that just depends on how
many soldiers they have, but most of the time they resell it on
the black market," he told a news briefing in Geneva.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N.
World Food Programme (WFP), global aid agencies with a presence
in Syria, said two specific allegations that Chamaa made about
other foreign aid being diverted were unsubstantiated. But the
ICRC said it was treating them "very seriously" and following
them up with the UOSSM and Syrian authorities.
The UOSSM, as it is known by its French initials, has set up
30 field hospitals and plans to open 30 more, as well as working
with local clinics and health workers, but often has to operate
secretly to avoid being targeted, Chamaa said.
He said the stolen aid, as well as other items such as
electrical goods looted from abandoned homes, is sold off in
black market bazaars in relatively quiet towns in Syria.
Public hospitals treat only supporters of Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad, leaving the rest - those who do not support him
against rebels waging a 19-month-old uprising - to fend for
themselves, Chamaa said.
"So we are setting up these first-aid points, these secret
hospitals, at our own risk, to meet the needs of the rest - the
civilians who have been shelled, women and children, people who
can't get to public hospitals for whatever reason, knowing that
a wounded person who goes into a public hospital risks being
arrested or executed, because they'll be seen as the enemy."
He said the government was intercepting large amounts of aid
because many donors insisted on going via "recognised"
organisations rather than clandestinely like the UOSSM, which
has funding from European governments including Switzerland.
DYING IN SILENCE
The UOSSM, a volunteer grouping of about 15 medical and
relief organisations and hundreds of doctors of Syrian origin,
has existed on a budget of about 3 million euros ($3.9
million)since being founded in Paris in January.
Chamaa said that amount was "derisory" compared to Syria's
estimated annual health needs of $3 billion.
The UOSSM was not calling for a halt to aid via official
channels but wanted it to be given on condition that it went
directly to the people who need it, he said. The UOSSM also
wanted secure zones for health care set up across the country to
allow aid to be distributed safely.
"The Syrian diaspora is sending billions out of their own
pockets to support the population within Syria. But then it
stops being tracked and so inside the country we don't know
where the international aid is going," he said.
The price of medicines has risen tenfold on the black market
but those needing care, such as pregnant women or people with
chronic ailments such as diabetes or cancer, were unable to get
them, he said. Millions more were at risk from hunger or cold.
"We have people dying in their homes from all these
conditions, through a lack of health care, simply because they
can't get out and get help, even if they can afford it. And this
is not included in the statistics that you hear on a daily
basis, of 150-200 dead. They are dying in silence."
As an example of aid going missing, he said 90-95 percent of
supplies sent to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) centre in
Damascus were used to benefit Syrian authorities and soldiers.
Anastasia Isyuk, an ICRC spokeswoman in Geneva, said of
Chamaa's remarks: "Whenever such facts are clearly established,
which does not appear to be the case now, we treat them very
seriously and address (them) directly with the management of
SARC and Syrian authorities."
Chamaa also said 11 trucks of food from the U.N.'s World
Food Programme (WFP) had disappeared after crossing into
northern Syria from Turkey and was last seen at a SARC depot.
But WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs denied its food aid was
being diverted. WFP monitors on the ground, some in armoured
vehicles, were checking on distribution in most areas, she said.
"WFP has never been and never will be a tool in the hands of
any government. WFP continues to provide food aid to all Syrians
in need and we are sure that it goes into the right hands."
She added that the Red Crescent, a volunteer organisation
which distributes the WFP's supplies, was working in an
impartial manner to reach people in need, no matter which part
of society they represented.
($1 = 0.7840 euros)
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and