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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 28 July 2004

AFGHANISTAN: MSF pulls out of country

ANKARA, 28 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - The Belgium-based Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Wednesday that it was withdrawing from Afghanistan after 24 years of independent humanitarian work following the government's failure to mount an adequate investigation into the killing of five MSF workers in June.

"The framework for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan is no longer possible," Marine Buissonnière, MSF secretary-general, told IRIN from the Afghan capital Kabul, explaining that the organisation had already started pulling out of the country and would finish leaving by the end of August.

The international organisation decided to withdraw after the Afghan government "failed to conduct a credible investigation" following the killing of five MSF aid workers in an attack on 2 June in the northwestern province of Badghis.

"There has been a very unsatisfactory follow up, what we consider a failure of its responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers," Buissonnière asserted, explaining that this was the main reason why MSF decided to pull out.

"Even though some local commanders have been identified [as suspects] they have not been detained," she said.

"We have an outstanding call for murder over our heads," Buissonnière said, explaining that the Taliban threat had contributed to the NGO's decision. "Aid workers can't be targeted," she stressed, noting that a Taliban spokesperson had claimed responsibility for the killing of the aid workers, arguing that organisations such as MSF were working for American interests.

According to MSF, this situation had arisen in a context in which the US-led forces had constantly used humanitarian actions for their own military and political purposes which meant that providing aid was no longer seen as impartial or neutral.

"Our security was based on the negotiations we made with the local parties to accept us. And they did because MSF has been seen as neutral, independent and impartial. But this is no longer the case," the MSF secretary-general said, noting that they had been "clearly rejected" by some of the insurgent groups.

The MSF official asserted that if they saw a clear willingness by the government to prosecute those behind the killings and if the Taliban would "somehow withdraw" the threat against the health NGO, they then would reconsider their decision. "At this stage the conditions are not there," she said.

MSF has been working in Afghanistan since 1980. The international organisation was providing health care in 13 provinces with 80 international volunteers and 1,400 local staff.

"It is very sad to leave the country because we will fail to assist the population whom we have been assisting for a very long time, even in very difficult circumstances," Koen Henckaerts, MSF director of operations for Afghanistan, told IRIN from Belgium on Wednesday. "But working in the country is impossible now," he added.

Despite the presence of the international troops and the recent NATO deployment of up to 3,500 new peacekeepers, Afghanistan still lacks security. More than 30 aid workers have been killed since the beginning of 2003.

"The south is very insecure and this insecurity is also going to the north," Henckaerts claimed, noting not only the threat of warlords, local commanders and poppy farmers, but also Taliban attempts to block the election process.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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