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Afghan Insecurity Prompts UN To Relocate International Staff


A UN helicopter arrives to evacuate UN workers in Herat, in western Afghanistan.
(RFE/RL) -- The United Nations says about 600 "nonessential" foreign staff are being temporarily relocated while authorities increase security in places where UN workers have accommodation.

The move comes a week after Taliban militants stormed a guest house compound in Kabul where UN workers were staying, killing five of them and three of their Afghan security guards.

Aleem Siddique, a Kabul-based spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that the UN remains committed to its programs, but "following the events of last week, we really do need to have a look at how we can ensure that our staff can continue those programs and activities."

The temporary relocations are expected to last several weeks as some staff are moved outside of the country and others are relocated within Afghanistan.

They involve nearly half of the 1,300 international UN staff in Afghanistan. Siddique says another 4,300 UN employees in the country are local Afghan workers -- about 80 percent of the UNAMA workforce.

"We estimate that somewhere in the region of about 12 percent of our [total] staff will be affected [by temporary relocations] across Afghanistan. Now, some of those staff may be relocated in other locations here within Kabul," Siddique said.

For years, UN staff in Kabul have lived in privately owned guest-house compounds spread across the capital. At the time of last week's attack, about 90 different guest houses were being rented by the UN across Kabul.

Siddique says the UN is now looking to secure accommodation where better security measures can be provided.

Still, UN officials say it would not be practical to house all international staff in a single compound. That's because UN employees live and work across the entire country, including provincial areas far from Kabul.

Temporary Relocations

Last week's attack on the guest-house compound was one of the worst security breaches for UN workers since the bombing of the August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people -- including the head of the UN Mission in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The UN shut down its operations in Iraq after that attack.

Kai Eide, the UN's special representative to Afghanistan, stressed that the relocations are temporary and that UNAMA is not going to shut down its operations in Afghanistan as a result of last week's attack.

But Eide says recent events in Afghanistan -- from allegations of widespread election fraud to growing security concerns about corruption and the loyalty of some Afghan police -- have brought relations between Kabul and the international community to a critical point.

"The debate of the last few weeks have demonstrated that there are more question marks and there is more doubt with regard to the strength of the international commitment to Afghanistan, and it is my conviction that we cannot simply continue to do more of the same," Eide said.

"That will not work. There has to be a change of mindset both in the government and in the international community."

Eide specified that Kabul must do more to rein in Afghan warlords and power brokers who are more interested in enriching themselves and expanding their power bases than helping to rebuild Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the British government has ordered an urgent review of the extent of Taliban infiltration into the Afghan National Police after an Afghan police officer shot and killed five British soldiers in Helmand Province who were training him.

The British government says the five men had just finished a patrol and were drinking tea inside a military compound in the village of Shin Kalay when the Afghan police officer shot them dead with a machine gun from the roof of a military checkpoint. Local elders say the man, named Gulbadin, had links with the Taliban.