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28 July 2004

U.S. Urges Doctors Without Borders to Remain in Afghanistan

State's Ereli says medical group is doing important, valuable work there

The United States regrets the decision by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres -- MSF) to pull its staff out of Afghanistan and hopes that, despite security concerns, the international community will continue to respond to humanitarian needs in the country, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said July 28.

Speaking at a State Department briefing in Washington, Ereli said the United States hopes MSF will reconsider its decision to leave Afghanistan.

"They're doing important and valuable work there. They've been there for 24 years. They enjoy wide international respect precisely because of the risks they've been willing to take and the sacrifices they've made to end human suffering," he said.

The deputy spokesman described the deliberate targeting of international aid workers as "callous disregard for the lives of those most in need." He said the United States is "committed to staying the course in Afghanistan."

Following is an excerpt from the July 28 State Department briefing:

(begin excerpt)

QUESTION: What's your reaction Doctors Without Borders pulling out of Afghanistan?

MR. ERELI: We regret it. Certainly, we're aware of their plans. We hope they'll reconsider. They are doing important and valuable work there. They've been there for 24 years. They enjoy wide international respect precisely because of the risks they've been willing to take and the sacrifices they've made to end human suffering.

We view the deliberate targeting of aid workers as callous disregard for the lives of those most in need. We are committed, I think the international community is committed, to providing security in Afghanistan. We've done a lot of work in terms of training and standing up Afghan police and military forces. So, clearly, there are actions that are reprehensible and that are targeted at aid workers, but the work they're doing is important and we hope that they can find a way to stay.

QUESTION: A follow-up? What message does this send to your partners in Afghanistan that a well-known NGO is pulling out?

MR. ERELI: Well, I can't speak for our partners. I think I can speak for the United States and say that we are committed to staying the course in Afghanistan. There's important progress being made. It's important to look, I think, at just the numbers in the registration process. We're now up to over 8 million registered voters, of 40 percent of whom are women, in anticipation of Afghanistan's first presidential elections. And that is in the face of what many people thought was going to be a registration campaign marked by violence, marked by disruptions. There has been a little violence, or some violence. There have been disruptions. But the lesson to take away from this is that the will of the people won't be frustrated. And in terms of providing humanitarian assistance, that is a need that is going to continue and we hope that in spite of the dangers that the international community will find a way, both governments and NGOs, to be responsive to that need.

QUESTION: How do you respond to the MSF's allegations that the U.S. Government is using humanitarian aid for political and military motives? That's one of the reasons they actually give for pulling out, not just local Afghanistan.

MR. ERELI: There's no basis for such a charge. There really isn't. We've never conditioned our aid on cooperation with military operations. We strongly reject any allegation that our actions have made it more dangerous for humanitarian workers to assist the people of Afghanistan. I think the responsibility should be put on the doorstep of those who commit the acts. There people who are willing to exploit innocent life for extremist ends, and that's where the blame should be placed, not on all of us who are just trying to work to make Afghanistan a better place for Afghanis.

QUESTION: Have there been conversations between them and the U.S. officials on the ground, military or diplomatic officials on the ground, about this? I mean, did they come to U.S. and say, we're having this complaint. Did you have any forewarning that they may -- this may be one of the reasons they decide to pull out?

MR. ERELI: Without getting to -- answering the specifics of your question, what I can tell you is that there is, I think, ongoing and close cooperation between ISAF, between the embassy, and between the NGO community on the issue of not only needs, but security and how we can best coordinate all our efforts to ensure that the people who need assistance get it, and that assistance is provided -- and that assistance is provided in as secure an environment as possible.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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