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Afghanistan: UN suspends operations in Kandahar region following bomb blast

26 April 2004 All United Nations operations in the Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan have been temporarily suspended, including voter registration, and movement within the city by national and international staff has been limited following a roadside bomb attack against a UN convoy.

Although the situation is of "great concern," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is not now considering evacuating its staff from the region, spokesman David Singh told a news briefing in Kabul, the Afghan capital, yesterday.

The attack occurred last Thursday on the airport road when an improvised exploding device hidden in a 44-gallon drum used for traffic control over a culvert was detonated as a two-car convoy with UN markings drove past. The lead car was thrown back 2 to 3 metres and its panels and windscreen were damaged, but no personnel were injured and both vehicles returned to the UN compound.

Mr. Singh stressed that the suspension was temporary, lasting until the investigation was completed. Staff were only going between their homes and office in the city where operations continue in a limited way.

"The situation is one of great concern," Mr. Singh added. "What seems to be emerging is that there seems to be very little differentiation between military targets and soft targets. But we have not reached a point where we have considered evacuating. We suspend our operations whenever such incidents take place and when we feel that security has returned, we have resumed our operations."

He said a main objective was to ensure that the electoral process goes through and "that we can all pull together to create a secure environment. Afghans must feel safe to exercise their right to register and to vote, and it must also be safe for our staff to help them to do that."

The suspension comes on the eve of a vast expansion in voter registration for September's scheduled presidential and legislative elections, with some 36,800 workers of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) set to fan out to 4,600 mainly rural registration sites across the country for phase II of the campaign beginning Saturday.

In the first phase over the past 10 weeks registration has been limited to eight urban centres where more than 1,860,000 Afghans, out of a total estimated electorate of over 10 million, have so far signed on. To date about a third are women, whose rights were severely restricted under the ousted Taliban regime. Each registration site has two teams - one for women and one for men. In a second attack last week in the northern city of Kunduz, an explosive device hit the rear wall of a warehouse leased from the government by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and managed by the Agency's implementing partner - German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). No injuries were reported. All employees in the warehouse were non-UN staff.

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