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Brutal Taliban Killings Anger Aid Community

One World.net, News Report, Alison Raphael Posted: Aug 18, 2008

WASHINGTON, Aug 15 (OneWorld) - The fatal ambush of four humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan last week has provoked a sharp response from the international aid community, including strong condemnation of the Taliban.

The deaths of Canadians Jackie Kirk and Shirley Case, American Nicole Dial, and their Afghan driver Mohammad Aimal brought the total death toll of aid workers in Afghanistan to 23 for this year, eight more than died in all of 2007, UNICEF pointed out in a letter of condolence.

The three women, all with long experience in aid delivery in global hot-spots, were on their way back to Kabul from Paktia Province, where they had been planning a project to assist children with disabilities.

The four worked for the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), which yesterday announced the suspension of its activities in Afghanistan, after 20 years of uninterrupted work in the country, while it "evaluates next steps."

A Taliban spokesman called news agencies to take credit for the attack, claiming: "We don't value their aid projects."

When it held power in Afghanistan, in between the Russian and American invasions, the Taliban imposed strict rules on women and girls, including closing down all schools where girls were being educated, refusing to allow women to walk in public unless in the company of a male family member, and demanding use of the blue burkha, hiding women's bodies and faces.

The car attacked by the Taliban Wednesday was clearly marked as an IRC vehicle, underlining the purposefulness of the assault.

In its statement, the IRC notes that Shirley Case was a long-time specialist in the field of education, especially for children often excluded; Nicole Dial was dedicated to reaching child soldiers, landmine survivors, and other especially vulnerable children.

Jackie Kirk was a specialist in girls' education, particularly in conflict situations and other emergencies.

The work the women were doing may have singled them out as a target. The Taliban "do not simply fail to value education: they deliberately target it," according to Vernor Munoz Villalobos, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education.

"Their attacks on schools, teachers, and others working on education are systematic, not random. They are part of a deliberate attack on human rights, on equality for women, and on any attempt by their fellow citizens to control their own destiny," Villalobos continued.

Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper wrote to the IRC: "This cowardly attack on unarmed aid workers yet again shows the depravity of the Taliban and the bleak alternative that they represent."

Calling Afghanistan "one of the most dangerous and volatile countries for aid workers," Atlanta-based aid group CARE pointed to what it sees as another factor behind the killings.

Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, humanitarian aid groups have argued that by tasking military personnel with responsibilities normally reserved for civilian, non-partisan, humanitarian groups -- such as infrastructure repair -- the United States has made the situation more dangerous for aid workers.

"When the lines are blurred between military operations and the provision of humanitarian aid, aid workers' lives are jeopardized," said CARE's interim director in Afghanistan, Jamie Terzi.

Last month, the kidnapping of two French aid workers caused the group Action Against Hunger to temporarily suspend its operations in Afghanistan. The pair, who were part of a team providing aid to Afghans at risk of malnutrition, were released earlier this month.

Escalating insecurity for aid workers is forcing many groups to restrict the scale and scope of their operations, said an agency coordinating relief efforts among 100 different groups working in Afghanistan.

"Aid organizations and their staff have been subject to increasing attacks, threats, and intimidation, by both insurgent and criminal groups," said the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief in a statement earlier this month. There have been more than 80 such incidents already this year, the group said, noting that there had been more worrisome incidents in June 2008 than in any other month in the last six years.

The increasing insecurity comes at a time when severe drought in some parts of the country and dramatically increased food prices have put many Afghans at risk of hunger, and in greater need than ever of the services provided by aid groups.

"We face a growing humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan," said Kai Eide, a UN specialist on Afghanistan, after Wednesday's attacks. "All parties to this conflict must recognize and respect the inherent neutrality and independence of the humanitarian assistance being provided to those Afghans who need our help the most."

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