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UN suspends DPs’ repatriation : Staff in Afghanistan grounded

November 18, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Nov 17: The UN refugee agency UNHCR on Monday suspended its aid programme for returning Afghan refugees for security concerns a day after gunmen killed a French woman officer on its staff in eastern Afghanistan.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement issued in Islamabad it was temporarily closing its voluntary repatriation centres for the Afghan refugees in Peshawar and Quetta “until the security situation inside Afghanistan is clarified”.

“UNHCR is temporarily suspending the assistance programme to returning Afghan refugees to ensure they do not arrive at UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan that may not be open,” the statement said.

Refugees seeking aid to return to their homes receive a travel grant, food and some other items on arrival at designated UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan.

Bettina Goislard’s killing was the first among UN international staff in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government to US-led forces two years ago.

She had been in Ghazni since June last year and had previously worked for the UNHCR in Rwanda and Guinea.

Local authorities in Ghazni reportedly said on Sunday they had arrested the two gunmen who they believed belonged to the Taliban, which has staged a comeback in parts of Afghanistan in recent months.

STAFF GROUNDED: The UN refugee agency in Afghanistan restricted staff movements on Monday and reviewed operations after the slaying of a French aid worker in Ghazni town, adds Reuters.

A 29-year-old French woman working for the UNHCR was shot at point blank range by two men on a motorcycle in Ghazni, southwest of the capital Kabul, in broad daylight on Sunday.

Bettina Goislard, who was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital, was the first international staff member from the United Nations to be killed since the fall of the Taliban regime two years ago.

Afghan officials blamed remnants of the ousted militia, which has declared a jihad, on foreign troops and aid agencies in the country. Two assailants have been arrested.

“Road missions were grounded throughout the country as UNHCR officials, together with the Afghan government, began reviewing its operations in Afghanistan,” the body said in a statement.

“After the incident yesterday we pulled our international staff from Ghazni province and all operations in that province have been suspended,” added UNHCR spokeswoman Maki Shinohara.