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UN Lifts Travel Restrictions on Staff in Southern Afghanistan - 2003-04-06

The United Nations has decided to lift travel restrictions on its staff in southern Afghanistan after local authorities stepped up security in the violence-hit region.

The United Nations banned its staff from traveling to Kandahar province after unknown gunmen killed a staff member of the International Red Cross in the region late last month. A U.N. spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said the travel ban is being lifted because local authorities have put in place extra security measures.

Mr. de Almeida said that several hundred Afghan troops and policemen, along with some coalition forces, have been deployed in all the districts of Kandahar Province. "They will also have mobile patrols in high risk areas and are also setting up security checkpoints in those areas. These measures are to be put in place today. That being the case, the restriction on movement of [aid workers] will be lifted. But it is a situation that will require continued monitoring and we will have to progress with caution," he said.

Mr. de Almeida said that a new committee of aid workers and Afghan authorities will also meet weekly in Kandahar to discuss the security situation. He said the increased security measures in the southern Afghan province have been taken after consultations between the United Nations, aid agencies, and Afghan authorities.

Mr. de Almeida said the United Nations has consistently pointed out that Afghanistan is not yet a stable country, and has urged that the multinational peacekeeping force be expanded outside Kabul. About 5,000 foreign troops are deployed in the Afghan capital to bring and maintain security to the war-ravaged city.

"The security situation in Afghanistan is not stable. Security is not yet reached a level that one could consider stable. In the case of the south this has reached a point of great concern with the murder of the ICRC staff member a few days ago," Mr. de Almeida said.

Southern Afghanistan has recently seen several violent attacks. They include the murder of a Red Cross worker, Ricardo Munguia, and an ambush on a U.S. military convoy that killed two American servicemen. Last week gunmen in southern Uruzgan Province killed a close friend and political ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Remnants of the former Taliban regime, suspected al-Qaida members, and fighters loyal to renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are believed to be behind the violence. Thousands of American troops are hunting down these militants in Afghanistan.