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Expelled UN, EU Diplomats Leave Afghanistan


Two diplomats from the United Nations and European Union have left Afghanistan after local authorities ordered their expulsion for allegedly holding unauthorized talks with Taliban insurgents. From neighboring Pakistan, VOA's Ayaz Gul reports, U.N. officials have rejected the allegations as a "minor misunderstanding."

The two diplomats expelled by the Afghan government are a British employee of the United Nations, Mervyn Patterson, and the acting head of the European Union mission in Kabul, Irishman Michael Semple.

They are accused of posing a threat to national security for holding unauthorized meetings with Taliban insurgents in the troubled province of Helmand. The southern Afghan region has seen frequent militant attacks and is known as a major drug producing province.

U.N. and EU officials reject Afghan allegations that the diplomats were indulging in any unauthorized activity.

Aleem Siddique is the Kabul-based spokesman for the United Nations. He says his agency's diplomat traveled to the Helmand region to speak to local community leaders as part of efforts to bring as many Afghans as possible into the national reconciliation process.

"It is unfortunate that those efforts seem to have been misconstrued by the Afghan authorities. And that is something that we are trying to rectify with the Afghan authorities in the meanwhile… although we do not feel that there is any real basis for such a decision [to expel the diplomats]," he said.

For the last 10 months, there have been repeated military operations in the Helmand region, in addition to Taliban activities. Siddique says these have badly affected the people in the area, and it is important to speak with them and address their concerns, so they can become part of national reconciliation efforts.

"But that does not mean that we are talking to terrorists, that does not mean that we are talking to human rights violators; what that does mean is that we are trying to bring as many people under the big tent of the government of Afghanistan to support the ongoing peace process in this country," he said.

The two expelled diplomats are seen as the most respected and knowledgeable foreign experts on Afghan affairs, and have been working in the country for more than a decade.

U.N. spokesman Siddique says efforts are currently under way to secure their return to Afghanistan to strengthen the reconstruction and development process.

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