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Swedish Aid Group says Afghan Offices Closed, Ransacked - 2001-10-20


A Swedish aid organization operating in Afghanistan says all its offices in the Afghan countryside have been closed after being ransacked by the Taleban during the past few days. The organization also says there is evidence that various Taleban factions are battling among themselves.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which operates large-scale education and medical facilities, says Taleban fighters have occupied and looted six of its eight Afghan regional offices. Only offices in the cities of Kabul and Jalalabad remain open,

Swedish staff were evacuated one month ago, but the director of the committee's main office in Stockholm, Pia Karlsson, says some of the 8,000 Afghan employees still running the aid programs have been attacked and beaten. "In Pul-e Khumri, which is one of the three main offices in the north, the guards were beaten, one wounded quite severely," she says. "The guards were unarmed, but the Taleban were not."

Ms. Karlsson says many local staff members fled and their whereabouts cannot be confirmed. In other areas, such as the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif, she says there is growing evidence that the groups of Taleban fighters are out of control and battling among themselves for whatever loot is available. "It seems as if the Taleban can't control all their people. It's obvious, for example, in Mazar, first one group of Taleban occupied office and put fire on the furniture in the office," she says. "Then after some hours another group of Taleban arrived, saying they were the real ones and threw out the first group. And then after some hours again, the first group came back, and now they are there, so it seems they are losing discipline and control, and that they are splitting up in factions."

Ms. Karlsson says among the most highly-prized items of plunder are the aid organization's vehicles. "In Ghazni, I know they have taken our vehicles, to protect them as they said. After that different Taliban have been seen driving around in the vehicles in the city, and rumor says the governor has left the city in one of our vehicles," she says.

Ms. Karlsson says even though offices have been ransacked and administrative staff attacked, the Swedish Committee's schools and clinics are continuing to operate throughout Afghanistan. She says 170,000 children, including 39,000 girls, are still attending schools, mostly in rural areas where the Taliban exercises little or no control.

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