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Red Cross Concerned About Civilians in Afghanistan - 2001-09-17

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is worried that war might break out in Afghanistan and leave the civilian population unprotected. The Red Cross pulled out all its expatriate staff from Afghanistan because of security concerns following the devastating terrorist attacks in the United States. The United Nations withdrew its foreign aid workers from Afganistan last Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it was forced to pull out its foreign workers from Afghanistan after the ruling Taleban authorities said they were not able to guarantee their safety.

The Red Cross calls this a temporary measure and said its 76 delegates are on standby in Peshawar, in neighboring Pakistan.

Red Cross spokesman Darcy Christen said the agency's 1,000 Afghan employees will carry out essential operations. These include supplying medicines and surgical materials to hospitals and clinics and providing food to thousands of the most vulnerable people. He said an already disastrous situation in Afghanistan will get worse if war breaks out.

Mr. Christen said it is critical for the Red Cross to return to the country quickly. "There is a [problem] in Afghanistan despite any conflictual situation," he said. "The situation in humanitarian terms is a catastrophe. Now, if there were a conflict, it is quite obvious that the situation will worsen and that we may have additional problems, like additional war wounded or people suffering directly from hostilities, and that would require an international organization like the ICRC to bring in relief."

The International Committee of the Red Cross regularly works in areas of conflict. Its mandate includes protecting civilians, treating the war wounded and visiting prisoners of war.

Mr. Christen said the organization is able to work in war zones because its neutrality generally is respected by the warring parties. But, he said, Red Cross delegates will not move into Afghanistan if they did not get security guarantees or clearances from the authorities. "It would not make sense to go into the middle of turmoil if we do not get security guarantees either from one side or another," he said. "So, what we would do definitely is that we would very quickly get in touch with all the parties to get them to understand that we really have to be on site to carry out our humanitarian activities, and therefore, we would negotiate to get all our clearances and all our security guarantees that we would need to carry out such activities."

Mr. Christen said the Red Cross wants all to understand that it is against international humanitarian law to target civilians and humanitarian organizations working on their behalf.