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Britain suspends Syria aid scheme after funds ‘paid to extremists’

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LONDON — The British government has suspended a multi million-pound foreign aid project in Syria after an investigation by the BBC that revealed jihadist groups had co-opted some of the funds.

A BBC Panorama program set to air on Monday night shows how members of the British-funded Free Syrian Police (FSP) cooperated with unsanctioned courts accused of torture and executions.

The Foreign Office has been a major contributor to a $20 million project, Access to Justice and Community Security (AJACS), which supports community police work in Syria.

Following the revelations, the Foreign Office halted its contribution to the AJACS initiative. “We are aware of serious allegations connected to this program and have suspended it upon further investigation,” the Foreign Office said in a statement issued on Sunday.

Britain is one of six countries supporting the community-led police force set up after the Syrian uprising and stationed in regions held by opposition rebels.

Documents leaked to the BBC reveal that at one point 20 percent of the cash distributions made to police officers in Aleppo province were being diverted to a group associated with a known terrorist, Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki. He has been linked to a range of atrocities during the Syria conflict, including the beheading of a young prisoner in 2016.

As per leaked report, Adam Smith International (ASI), the British company responsible for managing the AJACS program, was aware that police officers in the program had collaborated with Al-Zinki’s unsanctioned courts “by writing up warrants, delivering notices, and turning criminals over to the court.”

Two police officers receiving cash payments from the British-funded program were present when two women were stoned to death near Damascus in 2014, according to the leaked documents.

The AJACS program, established in 2014, was intended to support community policing in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.

“These programs, also supported by international partners, are intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services,” said the Foreign Office.

Aside from alleged complicity with extra-judicial killings and torture, the BBC program shows how the AJACS program was allegedly mired by corruption and poor management. The BBC report said that ASI documents showed it was aware that fictitious policemen were on the program payroll.

According to the BBC investigation, extremists associated with Al-Qaeda had handpicked police officers to serve at AJACS-funded stations in Idlib province.

Adam Smith International insists that the BBC’s portrayal of the Syria program is “untrue or entirely misleading.”
The company, which receives millions pounds from British taxpayers to execute government-backed programs abroad, has landed in hot water before.

With AFP Inputs

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Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wins presidency

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MALE — Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has beaten incumbent Abdulla Yameen according to provisional results, the country’s Elections Commission says.

Results released by the Elections Commission showed Mr Solih securing 133,808 votes (58.3 percent) compared to the 95,526 for incumbent Abdulla Yameen. The voter turnout was over 88 per cent out of the 262,000-strong electorate.

The Maldives government has acknowledged the opposition’s victory after the vote on Sunday, a surprise defeat for President Abdulla Yameen who was widely expected to win.

There were no other candidates.

Mr Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Mr Yameen, but struggled for visibility with the electorate, with local media fearful of falling afoul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

“I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power,” Solih said on television, shortly after interim results from the country’s election commission.

“We have won this election with a comfortable majority,” Solih said.

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