Turkish truck drivers accuse rebels of looting
CILVEGOZU - Agence France-Presse
Dozens of Turkish truck drivers on Saturday accused the Free Syrian Army of having burned and looted their lorries as they stormed a border post in Syria.
A group of truck owners, traders and transporters have been waiting since Friday at the Cilvegozu border crossing, in Turkey's southern province, which lies opposite to Syria's Bab al-Hawa post.
Rebels captured the Syrian border post after battling President Bashar al-Assad's loyalist troops.
"We barely escaped when the rebel fighters took full control of the Bab al-Hawa border post in Syria," said Hasan Abbasoglu as he retrived his vehicle from Syria after the looting.
While the truck was not damaged, its cargo had been ransacked. And he had to pay $700 (575 euros) in bribes to get his truck back, he said.
"I've been exporting carpets via the Syrian border crossing for seven years," he told AFP. "But this time we narrowly escaped with our lives." Members of the Free Syrian Army had done nothing to stop their fellow rebels from looting, he complained.
The opposition Free Syrian Army is made up of mainly army defectors fighting against the Damascus regime and some of its leaders are based in Turkish camps along the border.
Thursday's fighting saw Syrian rebels seize the border crossing with Turkey, prompting an all-out assault by the regime in Damascus to regain the lost border posts including one on its border with Iraq, according to reports.
Abbasoglu was relatively lucky: he at least got his truck back.
At Bab al-Hawa, four kilometres (two and a half miles) from Turkey's Cilvegozu, Syrian rebels ransacked customs buildings and pulled cargo from the back of stranded trucks.
"All of our trucks were burned," said trader Ali Cengiz, who exports to Saudi Arabia via Syria. "The rebel fighters destroyed our trucks during the clashes." Turkey was a major economic partner with Syria before President Bashar al-Assad clamped down on the uprising that erupted in March last year, straining ties between the two countries.
Turkey had denounced the bloody crackdown, which has sent more than 35,000 Syrians across the border into its territory alone.
The Turkish foreign ministry has repeatedly warned its citizens not to travel to Syria because of security concerns.
Traders however argued that as long as the border crossing at Cilvegozu remained open, they have to keep trading via Syria in order to stay in business.
"How will we earn our living then?" asked Cengiz. "We have debts, will the government make up for our loss?" Ali Celik, who runs a road haulage company, looked over the border into Syria: but he did not hold out much hope for his merchandise. His trucks were stranded at Bab al-Hawa, he said.
"We sent tow-trucks to retrieve our vehicles but we have received no information so far," he said.
He pointed out his trading partner. "He is very disappointed," he said. "He doesn't want to speak." About 40 trucks were stranded at the Syrian border post after this week's fighting according to witnesses.
Local officials were holding a meeting at Cilvegozu on Saturday to discuss security measures in the light of Friday's looting.