May 23, 2007 / 4:06 PM / 12 years ago

Kouchner should stop overusing our name, MSF says

By Kerstin Gehmlich

PARIS, May 23 (Reuters) - Medecins Sans Frontieres has urged France’s new foreign minister to stop overusing the name of the aid group he co-founded because donors were worried about its independence.

Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s appointment of the Socialist Bernard Kouchner took France by surprise last week and upset left-wing politicians who said Kouchner was betraying his roots and hurting his party ahead of parliamentary polls.

Kouchner was quick to reiterate he would stay true to his beliefs, pointing to his roots with MSF (Doctors Without Borders), a Nobel Peace Prize-winning aid agency he helped found in 1971 and left in dispute over its direction few years later.

But Jean-Herve Bradol, head of the French section of MSF, said Kouchner’s frequent referral to MSF was not helping the organisation’s cause, adding some donors were confused over Kouchner’s political message and the group’s objectives.

"We have received a lot of messages from donors who are worried about whether his acceptance of this post is in line with what MSF stands for," Bradol told Reuters in an interview.

"Mr Kouchner actively maintains an ambiguity because in practically all his speeches, he refers to the history of MSF and his role in MSF ... We think there’s a misuse of the brand."

MSF, which provides emergency medical assistance, largely finances its activities through private donations.

Bradol said it was important for MSF to proclaim its independence and neutrality as a humanitarian organisation and not to become associated with Kouchner’s policies.

Kouchner’s office declined to comment.

The outspoken Kouchner, who was U.N. governor in Kosovo from 1999 to 2001, is controversial in France.

Frequently voted one of the most popular public figures in France, supporters praise his unorthodox, hands-on style, while critics say his media stunts betray a love of the limelight.

He embarrassed the French government in which he served in the early 1990s by branding the late Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko a "walking bank safe in a leopard-skin hat" just as French troops were intervening to drive out anti-Mobutu rebels.

Kouchner has been a leading advocate of "humanitarian intervention", the right to get involved in another country’s internal affairs if human rights were being abused.

And he was one of the rare French politicians who spoke out in favour of a military intervention in Iraq in 2003, saying he was against war but also against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Bradol said MSF did not support military intervention.

"On the international scene Mr Kouchner ... has launched many calls for the use of military force in crises," he said.

"There is a confusion that is disturbing us because humanitarian action is through peaceful means....It’s important to underline that there is a real difference in points of view."

"We invite Mr Kouchner to talk about himself as a foreign minister ... and not as a director of a humanitarian organisation, which he is not, and has not been, for a long time." (Additional reporting by Francois Murphy)

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