- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

NEW YORK — The United Nations yesterday suspended its operations in southern Afghanistan, just days after a French refugee worker was fatally shot.

Concerned that foreign relief workers are now a target of Taliban sympathizers, U.N. officials have ordered foreign staffers to remain in their homes or offices throughout the southern part of the country, with most programs temporarily suspended.

In addition, four international staff members with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have been relocated to Kabul from Ghazni, where Bettina Goislard was killed Sunday afternoon.

“The U.N. has for now suspended operations in the south, southeast and southwest pending further security clearance for that area,” U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said yesterday. “We are still operational in the north.”

The slaying of Miss Goislard, a 29-year-old staffer for the U.N. refugee agency, was the most recent in a string of attacks or attempts on foreign relief workers in Afghanistan. Her Afghan driver was also injured in the attack, which Afghan officials blamed on remnants of the Taliban. Ghazni is about 60 miles south of Kabul.

On Saturday, a remote-controlled bomb narrowly missed a clearly marked UNHCR vehicle in Paktia, a province in eastern Afghanistan. Three Afghans were in the car, but no one was injured.

And just last week a car bomb exploded outside the U.N. office in Kandahar, wounding three Afghans and damaging part of the compound.

David Singh, spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press in Kabul that the assailants were likely affiliated with the Taliban.

“We hear they are Taliban, but we have never been given any proof of that,” Mr. Singh said. “What is clear is that these are elements opposed to the peace process. The evidence suggests that there obviously is some sort of campaign to target international workers. They are no longer seen as civilians. Everyone is fair game.”

Executives at relief agencies have expressed concern that the attacks in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns could encourage similar assaults by guerrilla groups in Afghanistan, Congo and other conflict zones where foreigners are seen as aiding or supporting an opponent.

The various U.N. aid agencies and development programs have about 800 foreign staff in Afghanistan, with about 500 clustered in Kabul, the capital and base for most U.N. operations.

Mrs. Okabe would not discuss how many of the remaining 300 were in the south.

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