- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

UNITED NATIONS — Gunmen kidnapped an American who worked for the United Nations in Pakistan on Monday and killed his driver — the latest in scores of attacks on U.N. staffers around the world.

John Solecki, a top U.N. refugee official in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, was snatched from his car early Monday while en route to his office at the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, U.N. officials said.

Attackers shot the driver, Syed Hashim, who died before rescuers could get him to a nearby hospital.

The Pakistani government called the attack “a dastardly terrorist action,” but U.N. officials declined to speculate without a ransom note or other contacts with the abductors.

Mr. Solecki is based in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, which shares a land border with Afghanistan.

The area has absorbed more than 2 million Afghan refugees and an untold number of Islamic militants.

“These are areas that are difficult and insecure for people operating there,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond from Geneva. “We’re only reaching 50 percent” of the refugees, largely because of militant activities, he said.

Mr. Solecki, who runs UNHCR operations in Quetta, joined the refugee agency about a decade ago, Mr. Redmond said. The driver was a Pakistani national.

Six months ago, Lynne Tracy, the senior U.S. diplomat in Peshawar, survived an attack on her car as she was driving to the U.S. Consulate.

More recently, terrorists bombed a popular Italian restaurant in the capital, Islamabad, that served wine and was frequented by foreign diplomats and aid workers, as well as secular Pakistanis.

Attacks on humanitarian workers have skyrocketed at U.N. duty stations throughout the world, with locally recruited drivers catching the worst of it.

At least 34 U.N. staffers were killed in 2008, most in Somalia, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.

Another 10 staffers were kidnapped last year, according to a list compiled by the U.N. Staff Union.

In the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, meanwhile, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up, killing 21 officers and wounding at least 20, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported.

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