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Afghanistan: UN Staff Relocated After Kabul Attack

Afghanistan: UN Mission Relocates Some Staff From West To Kabul After Attacks

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has decided to relocate 38 of its staff from the troubled western city of Herat to the capital Kabul for several days following yesterday's violent ransacking of the regional offices of UN agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) there.

Filippo Grandi, the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, told reporters today in Kabul that 15 international staff, as well as hundreds of UN staff who are Afghan nationals, will stay on in Herat to repair the buildings and open emergency premises.

The offices and compounds of UNAMA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were all damaged yesterday, when hundreds of locals demonstrated against the Afghan Government's decision to replace Ismail Khan as the governor of Herat province.

Facilities belonging to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Danish Aid Committee were also attacked.

Mr. Grandi, who led a mission of senior UNAMA staff to Herat today, said the attacks against the UNAMA and UNHCR compounds were the most shocking.

"I have seen in my life destroyed UN premises but I have hardly ever seen the type of the destruction that I saw in the UNAMA office. The office is in ashes and everything is burned. They spilled gasoline and threw matches and the whole office does not exist any more," he said.

Mr. Grandi stressed that the temporary removal of the 38 staff was not a sign that the world body would be abandoning the city.

He also said he was encouraged by a meeting today with the new Herat Governor, Mohammad Khairkhwa, and his commitments to defending human rights and women's rights, as well as to promoting security.

UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers said his agency was suspending its operations in western Afghanistan for the second time in a month because of the instability.

"This suspension comes at the worst possible time for Afghanistan, when increasing numbers of refugees are coming back to their homeland, and just a few weeks ahead of an election that will shape the future of the country," he said.

"It is crucial that UN staff be allowed to do their very important work at such a vital juncture. This process must take place in safety: it is intolerable that anyone's life should be endangered."

Mr. Lubbers' comments add to yesterday's statement from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who condemned the violence, occurring less than a month before an estimated 10 million Afghans go to the polls to elect a president.

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