D66 leader Sigrid Kaag takes responsibility for supporting Syrian insurgents. “A terrible situation. The aid was stopped when I knew about it and there will be a broad survey,” says the listler tonight in Nieuwsuur.
That Kaag wanted to stop the support programme earlier was never reported to the House of Representatives. The Chamber was told that support for armed insurgents had little use anymore because the Syrian President Assad was winning.
Kaag, who led the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, dealt with the funds with which the Netherlands financed the support programme. Kaag now says: “A lesson we learn is that we have to look very differently at how we can provide help.”
The Netherlands has been secretly supporting Syrian insurgents armed for years, including pick ups, military uniforms, satellite equipment. The program was implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ran from 2015 to April 2018.
The Netherlands never wanted to say which groups they supported, but Nieuwsuur, together with newspaper Trouw, revealed that these were groups guilty of war crimes and were reported as human rights violators.
The NLA program started under Rutte-2, in 2015. D66, then in the opposition, voted for the program. As Minister, Kaag was co-responsible for the NLA programme between 26 October 2017 and the end of March 2018, for almost six months. During her ministerial period, several supply agreements were concluded for the donation of logistical war equipment to insurgents in Syria.
The money for the equipment came from jars such as the Stability Fund, which was intended to promote stability and the rule of law in conflict zones. That money was part of Kaag. “I said when I took office as minister and saw it right away, this is not possible. That is why funding has been stopped prematurely.”
An important issue concerns the Afrin region, in northern Syria. On 20 January 2018, Erdogan invades the Kurdish region of Afrin from Turkey, using Islamic armed rebels in Syria. A purification of the area begins: thousands of Kurds fled.
At that time, the NLA programme is still running. At the time Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra promises the Chamber that if there is information that shows that one of the groups receiving Dutch support participates in the invasion of Afrin, the aid will be stopped immediately.
Purification of Kurds
Research by Nieuwsuur shows that this did not happen. A delivery agreement was signed on behalf of the Netherlands on 9 February 2018 for the delivery of pickup trucks to the group Levant Front. Thats 18 days after the invasion of Afrin.
The group Levant Front already shared videos on YouTube in January in which she openly said she was involved in the purification of the Kurds in Afrin. The Syrian Foreign Affairs Team carefully studied the social media expressions of the groups that received support.
The support also came to the Netherlands against fierce criticism from former UN leader Carla del Ponte, who was investigating crimes in Syria. “All European countries, including the Netherlands, knew that the opposition committed war crimes and crimes against humanity,” she said earlier.
A D66 voter – from Syria – still has family in Afrin (and therefore appears in disguise in the program). After the attacks of Erdogan and rebel groups in 2018, the area is arabized , he says. “My family lives under very harsh conditions. Their homes have been taken, human rights are being violated.”
“How can Minister Kaag, with all her knowledge of the region, have supported this programme?” , he asks the D66 party leader.