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NGO concerned over security in the south

Aid workers in southern Afghanistan have expressed concern over what they describe as deteriorating security conditions, which, they say, could place a limit on the number of agencies working in that region. "We have a number of offices in rural areas, and have had to curtail travel to them for international staff," South Asia director for the US based Mercy Corps NGO, Jim White, told IRIN from the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. There have been increased robberies and killings, mostly against local Afghans, according to White. "Its not clear who is behind this, but we are being extra careful," he said, adding that groups of people were taking advantage during the interim authority period. "We are concerned about the safety of local people too," he maintained. White gave other examples of increasing insecurity, saying that letters threatening children wearing western uniforms had been tacked on the walls and doors of schools. Although the NGO itself had not been targeted, White said they had to be vigilant. "Some of our staff were robbed outside Helmand Province while off duty, and we fear for their safety," he exclaimed. Following discussions with local authorities regarding incidents in the southern region, White said he was confident they would do all they could to try to control the situation. "It's tough enough for any police force to know when and where incidents will take place, but it's an even greater task for a new authority to keep the situation under control," he said, praising their efforts. Commenting on the extension of the mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), currently mandated to patrol a 32-km radius around the capital, White said it was important to have security forces outside Kabul, as that was the only way to stop the increasing crime. "We want to encounter greater humanitarian space and allow the Afghan people to feel safe," he said. "A safe environment must be created," he stressed. On a related issue, White also called on the coalition forces in the south to be in uniform. "There are groups of combatants and they are driving around armed in plain clothes and vehicles. This could have an impact on our programmes," he said. "Many Afghans will not be able to differentiate between the aid workers and coalition force [members], and this blurs the line between humanitarian work and what they are doing," he maintained. Mercy Corps has been working in the southern region for the past 16 years on rehabilitation, health, agriculture, water and sanitation projects. Meanwhile, in an effort to foster stability in Afghanistan, the senior UN envoy in the country held talks with the leader of the Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai, along with other Afghan leaders, to help bring outbreaks of fighting in the north of the country under control. Lakhdar Brahimi discussed the issue with Karzai and the interior minister, Qanoni, on Tuesday in Kabul. Fighting has been reported in the city of Mazar-e Sharif, the Sholgarah District and the northern province of Sar-e Pol. UN personnel have been in contact with the two parties involved, Jamiat-e Jombesh and Hezb-e Wahdat, at the regional and national levels. Members of the Security Council have in the past emphasised the need for increased attention to be paid to the security situation in Afghanistan in order to maintain stability in a nation which has already been ravaged by more than two decades of war.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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