Middle East

Nationalities of abducted aid doctors announced

Free Syrian Army fighters man a checkpoint in Idlib, to stop members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from entering Haas village, January 4, 2014. Picture taken January 4, 2014. REUTERS/Fadi Mashan

GENEVA: The five Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staffers seized by an unknown group in northern Syria this week are Belgian, Danish, Peruvian, Swedish and Swiss nationals, the humanitarian organization and media said over the weekend. Spokespeople from the various chapters of the group in the four European countries confirmed the information regarding the MSF employees taken Thursday night from a house they were using in war-ravaged Syria.

The Peruvian Foreign Ministry meanwhile said it was working to confirm media reports there that the fifth MSF staff member taken was from the South American country.

“I can’t give you any details for security reasons, but one of them is of Swiss nationality,” MSF Switzerland spokeswoman Sibylle Berger told AFP.

MSF Denmark said in a statement: “there is a Dane among the five relief workers,” while MSF Sweden’s spokeswoman Karin Ekholm confirmed a Swede had also been taken Thursday evening.

“We haven’t had contact with them since then,” she said.

MSF has declined to provide further information about the staff members, not even providing their ages or saying whether they are men or women.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, however, told broadcaster RTL-TV that the Belgian national was a nurse in his 30s.

He emphasized though that it had not yet been established that the five had been kidnapped.

“We do not have confirmation from other sources [besides MSF], so I want to make clear that I’m talking only about a possible kidnapping,” he said.

It remained unclear who had taken the MSF staff and the organization has so far refused to provide the exact location of the house they were taken from.

“We are still trying to analyze the situation and see what we can do to help our colleagues,” Berger said, explaining why the organization was being so tight-lipped.

In a statement Friday, the organization said the five had been taken, “apparently for questioning.”

“MSF is in contact with all the appropriate actors as well as the families of the colleagues and is doing everything possible to re-establish contact with these colleagues,” spokeswoman Samantha Maurin said in that statement.

MSF has six hospitals and four health centers in northern Syria and provides health support from neighboring countries to within Syria as well as to Syrian refugees.

In September 2013, a Syrian surgeon working for the group was killed in the north of the country, and aid workers operating in rebel-held parts of Syria have faced detention and kidnappings.

In October, seven employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross were kidnapped in northwestern Idlib province, with a Syrian non-governmental organization blaming the abduction on the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The group has been accused of kidnapping foreign and Syria journalists as well as aid workers and activists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 06, 2014, on page 8.




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