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UN Withdrawing Workers from Afghanistan - 2001-09-12

The United Nations is pulling its foreign aid workers out of Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States. A senior U.N. aid official in Geneva says the United Nations is temporarily relocating its international staff to neighboring Pakistan.

The United Nations calls the move a precautionary measure.

U.N. assistant emergency relief coordinator Ross Mountain says the United Nations decided to withdraw its international staff because of the current tense situation. He says media reports indicate Afghanistan may be accused of harboring those responsible for the terrorist attack, and U.N. officials decided it would be wise to remove aid workers from a possible source of danger. "We expect some 80 staff will be moved from six duty stations and that will be completed by tomorrow," he says. "This does not mean by any matter that the United Nations is withdrawing from Afghanistan. We still have national staff. But I do want to emphasize the precautionary and temporary nature of this exercise."

The aid workers are being moved to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Mr. Mountain says he does not know how long they will remain outside Afghanistan. But he says he hopes it will be very short because the country needs help. "The condition inside Afghanistan, for the population of Afghanistan, is dire," he says. "It remains dire. It is not just the civil war that is going on. But, as you are aware, a devastating drought has caused millions to leave and millions to be displaced. And the relief operations are vital for the life and death of literally hundreds of thousands."

Afghanistan is the biggest U.N. relief operation. All the major U.N. agencies, such as UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization, operate a range of programs in the country. These include food distribution to millions of victims of war and drought, as well as health, water, and sanitation schemes.

Mr. Mountain says these programs will continue to be run by local staff. But he says the programs will suffer if the U.N. international staff remains out of the country for a long period of time.