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UN Withdraws Staff after Killing of Aid Worker in Afghanistan - 2003-11-18


United Nations officials are reviewing the security situation in southern and southeastern Afghanistan, where Sunday's killing of a French aid worker has forced the world body to suspend relief operations.

The United Nations is withdrawing its international staff in southern and southeaster Afghanistan. The decision follows the murder of a French woman, Bettina Goislard, who was working for the U.N. refugee agency in the war-ravaged country. She was gunned down in the southeastern city of Ghazni by two attackers, said to be militants loyal to the former Taleban government.

Since the start of this year, 12 aid workers, including two foreigners, have been killed in attacks blamed on Taleban loyalists.

U.N. spokesman Jack Redden said the repatriation program will remain suspended until the security situation becomes clearer in Afghanistan.

"Hopefully this will be clarified quite quickly but obviously we have to balance the need to provide assistance to the returning refugees there with the need for security for the staff," he said. "But in the meantime we are going to stop sending people back to Afghanistan."

Mr. Redden said the temporary suspension will have little immediate effect on the flow of refugees back to Afghanistan.

"The number at this stage are quite low," he said. "It's a combination of [the Muslim holy month] of Ramadan, which of course has slowed everything down, but also winter has pretty much arrived now in Afghanistan.

"So we would not normally expect large numbers until next March," continued Mr. Redden. "At the moment, there is only a couple of hundred people a day going across. So it's a fifth or less of what it was a month ago."

Under the voluntary U.N. repatriation program, nearly two million Afghan refugees have gone back to their country from Pakistan since the hard-line Islamic Taleban regime in Kabul fell two years ago. According to U.N. estimates, more than one million still remain in Pakistan.

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