Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Afghan strife makes UN relocate


Kai Eide: 'UN is a target for insurgents'

The UN says it will temporarily relocate 600 of its international foreign staff based in Afghanistan.

The personnel would return to work once security had been boosted at unsecured accommodation used by the UN, it said.

The transfer would not affect work such as aid delivery, as this was done by local Afghan staff, the UN added.

The move follows a dawn raid by the Taliban last week on a hostel in the capital, Kabul, which left five UN workers and three Afghans dead.

The attack on the private Bekhtar guesthouse in the Shar-i-Naw district last Wednesday was the deadliest on the UN in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Andrew North
Andrew North, BBC News, Kabul
It may be a temporary move by the UN, but it is a drastic one.

The UN insists emergency programmes, such as delivering food aid, will continue.

But relocating nearly half its international staff for up to four weeks, while security is upgraded, will inevitably disrupt some operations.

Some may feel it is over-reacting. Other humanitarian agencies are so far not following the UN lead.

But last week's attack has had a devastating impact on UN morale here, comparable to the 2003 suicide bombing of its headquarters in Baghdad.

Six years later, UN staff in Iraq still work under draconian security restrictions, severely limiting what they can do.

A key question will be how much new security procedures here will affect the ability of UN staff to continue working Afghanistan.

On Monday, also citing security concerns, the UN halted long-term development work in north-western Pakistan, a region bordering Afghanistan viewed as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

In a Kabul news conference on Thursday, Kai Eide, the head of the UN's Afghan mission, said some of the staff - mostly "non-frontline" personnel - would be moved within the country, others outside.

"We are not talking about pulling out and we are not talking about evacuation," the Norwegian diplomat said.

The temporary relocation of staff was likely to take three to four weeks, the UN said.

The UN has up to 1,300 international staff - out of a workforce of about 5,600 - based in Afghanistan.

The personnel to be moved come from all UN agencies and different Afghan cities.

Mr Eide told the BBC later: "It's quite clear that the security situation for our staff has become much more complex over the last year."

This will have a huge impact on our operation here. It will take longer and it will be more difficult to achieve our goals.
UN worker

But he said the Taliban would not succeed in driving the UN out of Afghanistan, in the same way it was forced from Iraq six years ago after a suicide truck bombing on a UN compound killed a top envoy and more than 20 others.

"We will certainly continue our work, but we are taking the measures in order to do so and we are enhancing our security," said Mr Eide.

Meanwhile, British forces are continuing to hunt the Afghan policeman who shot dead five UK soldiers on Tuesday in Helmand.

They are investigating whether the gunman - who opened fire in a compound where the UK troops had been mentoring Afghan police - is linked to the Taliban.

In the guesthouse raid last week, UN employees tried to flee as three heavily armed Taliban militants hiding explosive vests under police uniforms attacked.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) - set up in 2002 - is the umbrella body for all UN agencies
Role is to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan focusing on humanitarian and political issues
Most UN agencies have a major presence in Afghanistan
Major areas of activity include reconstruction, food distribution, political outreach and elections
UN employs about 5,600 staff across Afghanistan
UN also works in partnership with hundreds of governmental and non-governmental organisations

The three gunmen were shot dead.

The hostel - which had been used by the UN and other international organisations - was gutted by fire.

Foreign officials have warned that the Kabul government's reputation for corruption and the recent crisis surrounding the fraud-marred presidential election are fuelling the Taliban insurgency.

Security has continued to deteriorate, despite the presence of more than 100,000 Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), including about 68,000 Americans.

On Thursday Isaf said it was investigating reports that civilians had been killed in a rocket attack by Nato forces on insurgents allegedly planting a bomb in Lashkar Gar, Helmand province.

US President Barack Obama is currently considering a request from the US commander in Afghanistan for another 40,000 troops.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month announced 500 extra British soldiers would be sent.

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