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EU Says Coalition Putting Afghan Aid Workers At Risk

27 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission said today that "certain elements" with the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan engage in practices that blur the distinction between combatants and humanitarian-aid workers who must be seen as neutral.

Commission spokesman Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe said in Brussels that the problem puts at risk aid deliveries, as well as the lives of relief workers on the ground.

"We believe that elements within the coalition forces through their behavior contribute to a situation where the distinction between humanitarian and military personnel is becoming blurred," Ellermann-Kingombe said. "This undermines the perception of humanitarian-aid workers being impartial, being neutral, and therefore makes it also difficult to carry out what we were meant to do, that is, bring vital humanitarian aid to those in need."

Ellermann-Kingombe said coalition troops in the south of the country are the worst offenders.

He said military personnel there often operate in civilian clothes and vehicles. Also, coalition forces have distributed leaflets promising humanitarian aid in exchange for intelligence information relating to Al-Qaeda activities.

Ellermann-Kingombe contrasted these practices to the activities of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, which he said follows "very clear rules" helping to identify military personnel as such.

He said 23 aid workers have died in Afghanistan since March 2003.