Aid groups plan to leave Afghanistan

Sunday, June 16, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- International aid workers are threatening to leave northern Afghanistan after a female worker was gang raped, a clinic was attacked by gunmen, and a vehicle carrying food for the hungry was shot up, the United Nations said Saturday.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has complained to Hamid Karzai, the country's newly elected president, and held a meeting Saturday with the three warlords who control the region, said U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva.

All three attacks occurred in the past week in northern Afghanistan, he said.

In a letter to Karzai, Brahimi called the lawlessness in northern Afghanistan, the stronghold of the U.S. allies against the Taliban, a "serious situation."

"In particular, the U.N. staff are now reporting an alarming level of violence that is affecting both the personal security and confidence of local residents, and the ability of aid workers to assist them," Brahimi wrote.

At least one American aid organization, whose vehicle was attacked Friday while taking food to a camp for internally displaced Afghans, has already pulled out of the country.

Other groups are considering similar actions, he said.

The attack happened in Dehdadhi district near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Balkh province.

On June 8, a female international aid worker was gang raped by seven men, who attacked her vehicle and beat up the Afghan staff member accompanying her, Almeida said. "I call the attack vicious," he said.

He didn't specify where the assault occurred except that it happened in northern Afghanistan. The United Nations was only told about the gang rape two days ago because the aid organization "wanted to protect her and put her in a safe place," he said.

On Thursday, gunmen from rival factions -- both currently part of the interim administration -- opened fire on a health clinic in Sholgara in northern Balkh province. The non-governmental organization running the clinic is considering closing down.

All the incidents were reported to local authorities, who have refused to take action.

The three warlords who control that area are Gen. Rashid Dostum, currently deputy defense minister, Atta Mohammed, chief commander of the Northern Alliance forces, backed by the U.S., and Mohammed Mohaqik, a key Shiite leader. They are all currently attending the grand tribal council to choose a new government.

Brahimi met with the three men on Saturday.

The aid organizations operating in northern Afghanistan also plan to launch a campaign to let the people they are helping know that their assistance is in danger because of the escalating lawlessness and violence.

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