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Aid Groups Say Afghan Violence Worst Since 2001

August 01, 2008

An umbrella group representing some 100 aid groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has said that violence is at its worst level since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and that it is concerned over the increasing number of civilian casualties and attacks on aid workers in recent months.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) said in a statement that some 1,000 civilians were killed this year and their deaths were caused mainly by insurgents, but also by air strikes by international forces.

A reported 260 civilians were killed in July, which is more than any other month since 2001, the statement said.

It said that aid workers have increasingly been targeted by militants -- who have killed 19 NGO workers so far this year -- more than during all of 2007.

ACBAR warned that mounting security risks are forcing aid agencies to scale back their operations in Afghanistan despite the fact that poverty, drought, and rising food prices have left millions of Afghans in need of humanitarian aid.

Anjadee Beer, the director of ACBAR's Kabul office, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that NGOs might become unable to operate even in areas once viewed as safe.

"It was reasonably stable in the north, northwest, and [in] central Afghanistan. Drought, for example, has especially struck in the north -- in Badghis, Farah, Konduz. And we see [an] increase in insecurity, which of course very much limits our access," Beer says. "Another problem is that our organization is trying to transfer food for the upcoming winter and many of those convoys are being attacked, so there is a great loss of food supply on the way."

The aid agencies called on all parties of the conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants, to never use civilians as shields, and to not attack humanitarian, development, and medical personnel or supplies.

ACBAR said it has a "grave concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the serious impact on civilians."

Schools and health facilities have been closed in the south of the country due to increasing violence, which has also hampered development projects.

More than 4 million Afghans are living in "extremely difficult circumstances," ACBAR said, and the situation is especially hard for children and women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.

"Increasing and spreading insecurity is jeopardizing the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to these people and threatening their lives and livelihoods," the ACBAR statement said.

The UN said in reaction to ACBAR's statement that intensifying violence and insecurity has been affecting its operations, too, with at least 12 UN humanitarian convoys coming under attack by insurgents and criminal gangs.

ACBAR said it is using figures from a range of sources, including an NGO in Afghanistan called Safety Office.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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