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  Greece Miffed at Doctors' Decision

By Brian Murphy
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Oct. 22, 1999; 1:35 p.m. EDT

ATHENS, Greece –– Greek officials protested Friday a decision by Doctors Without Borders to sever ties with its Greek branch for taking part in an aid mission to Kosovo.

"We consider it an especially sad event," said a Foreign Ministry statement. "Humanitarian aid must not be affected by politics."

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas urged the group to reconsider, saying: "This issue should be re-examined because their contribution is vital."

The international group, the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, denied that its Greek section was expelled because it mostly aided Serbs in Kosovo during NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

The Greek team violated the organization's guidelines for unrestricted movement, said Austen Davis, general director of the Netherlands section of Doctors Without Borders.

The Greeks, he said, also broke the group's code of neutrality by entering Kosovo under a mission negotiated by government officials in Athens.

Greece was a center of opposition to the NATO bombing. A mix of anti-American sentiment and kinship with fellow Christian Orthodox Serbs led to widespread sympathy for Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav authorities refused requests by Doctors Without Borders for unrestricted permission to enter Serbia and Kosovo and assess medical needs before setting up distribution centers and field clinics, Davis said.

"We were doing everything we could, but we were denied access," he said. "We have a set of standards by which we try to maintain a neutral, independent character. This wasn't possible."

"We didn't object at all to the Greeks going in," Davis said. "They just shouldn't have gone in as Doctors Without Borders."

The group's international council broke ties with the Greek chapter Sept. 24, but word of the action surfaced in press reports only this week. Davis said "the door was open" for the Greek branch to return.

The director of the expelled chapter, Odysseas Voudouris, has strongly condemned the decision and said it will ignore the order to stop using the Doctors Without Borders name and logo.

The vote leaves Doctors Without Borders with 18 "operational centers." Five do active field work: Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The other branches conduct fund-raising, educational programs and other logistical support.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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