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Call on Taliban to respect aid volunteers

ARCS and ICRC workers in food distribution
ARCS follows the traditional humanitarian principles of the ICRC (ICRC)

The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) has condemned the brief kidnapping of a local humanitarian volunteer by Taliban insurgents in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.

 

The insurgents allegedly detained an ARCS volunteer in Marjah, Nad Ali District, Helmand Province, on 11 April and released him two days later after he paid them 20,000 Pakistani rupees (about US$240), according to Ahmadullah Ahmadi, provincial ARCS head.

 

“Detention and extortion perpetrated on a volunteer who is working freely and impartially to alleviate human suffering is unjustifiable,” said Ahmadi, adding that volunteers deserved respect and appreciation.

 

ARCS has thousands of volunteers across the country, including over 600 in Helmand Province. They help with aid distribution, rapid assessments and evacuation operations during natural disasters.

 

“They are local men who receive ARCS training and help their own communities in difficult times,” said Ahmadi.

 

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment but the insurgents have been accused of attacks on aid workers in the past.

 

At least 33 security incidents involving NGOs across the country were recorded by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office in the first quarter of this year.

 

However, the blame does not exclusively lie with the Taliban: Armed criminal groups also attack aid workers and convoys for financial gain.

 

Aid agencies also criticize pro-government Afghan and foreign forces whose actions sometimes endanger aid workers’ safety and security.

 

ARCS works in collaboration with, and is backed by, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which maintains contacts with all warring parties, including the Taliban.

 

Ahmadi said with the exception of the Marjah incident, his colleagues had not been attacked or intimidated by the Taliban over the past two years.

 

“Important humanitarian actors”

 

Humanitarian needs are considerable in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where UN agencies and other international organizations have a minimal presence or no presence at all.

 

“ARCS’s volunteers are important humanitarian actors. Some 23,000 of them are trained in first aid and render their services free of charge in areas of the country where there are simply no other health structures around,” Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, an ICRC communications officer in Kabul, told IRIN.

 

During a major anti-Taliban military offensive in Marjah in February ARCS volunteers helped in the evacuation of over 20 wounded people - some of them purportedly Taliban fighters - to hospitals in Lashkargah.

 

Aid workers are concerned that attacks on local volunteers could exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Helmand and Kandahar where civilians are increasingly being affected by armed violence and insecurity.

 

Civilians are particularly at risk from home-made bombs and improvised explosives used indiscriminately by the insurgents, according to aid agencies.

 

The number of people wounded by roadside bombs and brought to an ICRC-backed hospital in Kandahar in January-February 2010 was up nearly 40 percent on the same period last year, the ICRC said in a statement on 14 April.

 

At least 45 people, mostly civilians, were killed and over 60 wounded in several blasts in Kandahar city on 13 March, it said.

 

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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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