New York: The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said on Saturday it was postponing consideration of an aid plan for Syria because of the turmoil there.
The move followed a sharp attack by a senior US Republican congresswoman on the proposed program, which she said could lead to a "Bucks for Bashar" scandal, a reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad's forces, trying to crush a six-week-old uprising in Syria, have killed hundreds of civilians, according to human rights groups. On Saturday, they shelled parts of the southern city of Deraa and stormed a mosque, residents said.
In a statement, UNDP said that "in light of developments in Syria" it was "deferring its upcoming five-year program for the country pending further review."
"The decision was taken by UNDP to ensure that the new program addresses the evolving development needs of the Syrian people," the New York-based agency added.
It said a draft 2012-2017 country program for Syria, prepared before the current crisis, was to have been submitted to UNDP's governing 36-nation executive board in June for discussion but had now been delayed. It gave no new date.
UNDP said its programs in Syria covered promoting economic growth; enhancing institutional, administrative and legal frameworks; strengthening environmental management; improving disaster prevention and management; and fighting HIV/AIDS.
In a statement on Friday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and a stern UN critic, said she was "deeply concerned that UNDP assistance to Syria could end up benefiting the Syrian regime."
Accusing UNDP of "mismanagement, malfeasance, and diversion of funds" in Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), and North Korea, she said, "We've already had the 'Cash for Kim' scandal in North Korea. This aid plan must be terminated to avoid any potential 'Bucks for Bashar' scandal in Syria."
UNDP has denied any mismanagement of funds.
Ros-Lehtinen said the proposed aid package for Syria was "premised on the false belief that the murderous dictatorship in Damascus can be a legitimate partner for democratic governance, economic growth, and development."
She called for a ban on US funding for UNDP.
Ros-Lehtinen's office described the proposed UNDP package for Syria as a "$38 million aid plan." UNDP did not confirm that figure but said its "core funding" of the current 2006-2011 country program in Syria is under $1 million a year.
In a middle-income country such as Syria, the host government met the majority of program costs, with donors meeting others, it said.