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Foreign UN Staffers Return To Afghanistan


Staffan de Mistura, the new head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, arrives in Kabul on March 13.

Staffan de Mistura, the new head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, arrives in Kabul on March 13.

KABUL (Reuters) -- The United Nations mission in Afghanistan is no longer keeping staff abroad as a security measure, after it evacuated hundreds of foreign workers following an attack last year, a spokeswoman said today.

Scores of the evacuated workers have returned to Afghanistan, while others have quit and others left after their contracts ran out, leaving many vacancies for staff, Susan Manuel said.

The United Nations moved staff out of the country to safety in November last year, days after Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a UN guesthouse in the capital, Kabul, killing five of the organization's foreign staff.

"Around 340 international UN staff were sent out of the country for security reasons," Manuel said. She said 85 people working for the main UN mission who were evacuated to Dubai had all returned.

Of the rest of the evacuees, who worked for a variety of UN agencies, some had returned, some had quit over security fears, and some had left because their contracts expired. None are still based abroad because of security concerns, she said.

There are now between 900 and 1,000 international staff posted in Afghanistan, Manuel said, still short of the 1,100 before the attack, adding the organization was having difficulty filling its international vacancies in the country.

"We have something like a 30 to 40 percent vacancy rate. We are having trouble filling posts, partly due to security reasons," said Manuel. In addition to the foreign staff, the UN mission also employs thousands of Afghans.

Manuel declined to comment on what new security measures had been put in place but said staff were now consolidated at fewer locations to make it easier to guard them. Before October's attack, there were more than 90 UN guest houses in Kabul.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst levels since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. The militants have launched an increasing number of commando-style attacks inside the capital and other cities.

Last month, Taliban fighters launched a suicide attack outside another Kabul guest house used by foreigners, and battled security forces for two hours. Sixteen people were killed, including an Italian diplomat and Indian government officials.

There are more than 120,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan trying to contain the resurgent Taliban, and that number is due to rise to nearly 150,000 this year after Washington's announced "surge" of extra forces last year.

A new head of the UN mission, Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, arrived in Afghanistan on March 13. He replaced Kai Eide, a Norwegian, who feuded publicly with his American deputy over measures to fight election fraud.
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