News / Middle East

Syrian Official: UBAF Bank Unlocking Frozen Funds for Food

A woman holds bread in Minbij city in the east countryside of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 18, 2013.
A woman holds bread in Minbij city in the east countryside of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 18, 2013.
Syrian bank accounts frozen abroad are gradually being freed up for use to fund food purchases, the head of Syria's General Foreign Trade Organization (GFTO) told Reuters on Sunday, with France being the most committed to releasing the money.

The European Union, United States and other Western countries have imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's government over his crackdown on the revolt in his country, but these do not apply to food.

The Paris-based Union De Banques Arabes Francaises (UBAF) has approved the release of funds for purchases, Tarek al Taweel, Director General of GFTO, said over the telephone.

“UBAF bank in France has been very cooperative,” Taweel said.

France in September cleared the use of frozen Syrian bank assets to fund the export of food to the country as part of a European Union system that allows such funds to be used for humanitarian ends.

UBAF was not immediately available for comment when contacted through phone and e-mail.

Syria's GFTO has been trying in vain for several months to buy sugar and rice in international tenders using funds frozen abroad. One of the reasons cited by traders was a failure to secure permission from governments to free the funds.

“The problem is not with us, the problem is that the traders have to seek the approval for unlocking the assets,” Taweel said.

GFTO is seeking 135,000 tons of long or short grain white rice and 276,000 tons of white sugar in two separate tenders. The deadline for sugar offers is Nov. 27, while that for rice is Nov. 26.

GFTO has asked for the same amounts of sugar and rice with the same conditions four times, and Taweel said he expected to face the same issues that hampered previous tenders when the new bids are reviewed at the end of the month.

“We have to ask that the traders have the approval to unlock funds alongside their offer, otherwise we cannot do business,” he said.

“This is what is hindering the process and the problem still exists.”

Apart from requiring prior approval to unlock frozen assets, traders have also said the low number of offers was due to tender conditions that do not reflect the risk involved in doing business with a country embroiled in civil war.

The requirement to place a one million euro ($1.4 million) bid bond was listed as one of the tender terms keeping traders away.

A bid bond is a form of guarantee which tender participants must give to ensure they will deliver under the terms of their offer.

Taweel said the one million euro bid bond condition would remain as long as some traders continued to make offers based on it.

“We might consider changing that term if it becomes an issue but so far traders have been willing to offer under these conditions,” he said.

Despite difficulties in buying food through government tenders, some deals struck through middlemen outside of the tender process have secured food for the country.

The Syrian state grain agency Hoboob said in October it concluded a deal to import 500,000 tons of wheat of which around 150,000 tons had arrived in Syria. That purchase was done outside the tender process through a local Syrian firm.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs