Ukraine rebels target global health relief groups

2015-09-16 21:06
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Kiev - Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels on Wednesday accused Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross of "illegally" storing powerful drugs, which could complicate the humanitarian groups' efforts to help victims of the 17-month separatist war.

Both global non-governmental organisations said their activities in the separatist region had already been suspended and they disputed all charges.

The pro-Russian insurgents have imposed strict limits on foreign assistance and human rights groups' operations in the self-declared republics of Lugansk and Donetsk.

The Lugansk guerrillas said Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had "illegally stored psychotropic medication" that lacked proper registration in either Russia or Ukraine.

They further accused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of storing drugs "that lacked accompanying documents and seriously breaching fire safety laws".

The separatists failed to specify what future sanctions the two groups might face.

MSF said it "strongly refutes the allegations" and noted that it had received no official notification of the alleged violations from the rebel command.

"All MSF medical activities are carried out in co-ordination with the health authorities, including the transportation, storage and distribution of medicines to health facilities," the medical humanitarian organisation said in a statement.

It added that its operations in Lugansk had been "on hold" since July while it awaits the issue of a new work license at some stage this year.

A local ICRC representative told AFP that Red Cross operations in both Lugansk and Donetsk were also suspended in August while the group faces a permit review.

"We do not work with psychotropic drugs in the east," Ashot Astabatsyan said by phone.

He added that the local ICRC office would take the fire safety hazard "recommendations into account".

The UN 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.

Read more on:    icrc  |  msf  |  russia  |  ukraine

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