Afghanistan: Security concerns remain for NGOs

KABUL, 3 February (IRIN) - Aid workers are concerned over the security situation in Afghanistan following a series of incidents involving the beating and robbing of staff, attacks on offices and convoys, and fighting in parts of the country.
"Definitely we are concerned," Paul Barker, the director of the NGO, CARE International, told IRIN from the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday. "This is even in advance of any hostilities in Iraq, and that makes us more conscious to expect more of this," he added. Some aid workers fear increased retaliation if the US-led coalition embarks on a war in Iraq.

In an incident on 30 January, two employees of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) were stopped by gunmen as they were driving near Sheykhabad, some 50 km south of Kabul. "The occupants of the vehicle were blindfolded and driven into the nearby mountains, where they were released unharmed four hours later," WFP spokesman Alejandro Chicheri told reporters on Sunday in the capital.

A UN demining team was attacked by an armed gang as it was returning to its base in the western province of Farah on 27 January.

This followed the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) temporarily suspending activities in three separate districts of the eastern province of Nangarhar after an attack on 26 January on a two-vehicle convoy left two dead and one injured. On the same day there was a bomb blast at a UN building in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

In a press statement, another international NGO, Action Against Hunger, said on 29 January that a device containing TNT explosive was thrown at its office in the southern city of Kandahar. It damaged the building without causing any injuries. In Kandahar on 31 January, a landmine blamed on anti-government forces killed some 18 bus passengers.

"It's alarming to see this many incidents," Barker said. "Essentially, it's the depth of winter; you should expect an increase in security incidents only when the snow melts in the spring," he added. A CARE report last month said security remained a fundamental constraint to effective reconstruction in Afghanistan, and also pleaded with the international community to commit more resources to the International Security Assistance Force, currently providing security only in Kabul.

"A general concern is that there is an increase in security risks in parts of the country," Nigel Fisher, the UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative for Reconstruction, told IRIN from Kabul. He added that over the past six months there had been an upward trend in security related incidents in the southwest of the country, especially in Kandahar up to the border with Pakistan."

"In the last two weeks there have been about 16 incidents, affecting the UN, Mine Action and NGOs," he said, adding that the upsurge was reportedly attributed to the return of the Taliban and activities of the [renegade] warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"Our overall attitude to security generally is that we have to continue working here and that in fact continuing reconstruction work is contributing to better security," he said. He explained that the UN was being more rigorous to ensure that all agencies were complying with the existing security standards.


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