Afghan gunmen kill British UN aid worker

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The Independent Online
GUNMEN ambushed United Nations relief workers in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing a Briton, a Dutchman and two Afghan drivers. The attack, which UN officials fear was deliberately directed at the organisation, has raised questions over the security of international relief efforts in Afghanistan and in other trouble spots around the globe.

UN officials said the men were going from Peshawar in Pakistan to Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, when gunmen fired on their vehicles near Surkhdiwal, 10 miles from Jalalabad. No group claimed responsibility. Much of Nangarhar is controlled by Hizbe Islami, the fundamentalist rebel group headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once heavily armed by the United States.

The British and Dutch victims were identified as Tony Bullard, who worked for the UN Centre for Human Settlements and J A Van Hoeflaken, who was acting as a consultant on water resources. Yesterday the UN demanded Afghanistan arrest those responsible but the likelihood is remote. Nine months after the fall of the Najibullah government, Afghanistan is slipping towards the anarchy that plagued Somalia. Fighting by various ethnic groups for control of Kabul has killed at least 6,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

'There are no national institutions in Afghanistan today except for weapons,' said Barnett Rubin of Columbia University's Centre for the Study of Central Asia. Dr Rubin speculated that Monday's attack was a message to the international community not to meddle in Afghanistan. But it could also have been the work of an anti-Western group.

Many international agencies have curtailed operations in Afghanistan after attacks on their centres and the looting of equipment and supplies. One UN official said Monday's ambush, seen in context with recent attacks on relief workers in other trouble spots, prompted the question: do international humanitarian concerns outweigh security considerations for relief workers? Martin Barber, head of the UN programmes in Afghanistan, said the ambush could lead the UN temporarily to re-evaluate its humanitarian aid programme in that part of Afghanistan, adding that a report on the incident had been sent to New York.

Tony Marsden, of British Agencies Afghan group, a relief co-ordinating body, warned against any further pull-out by relief organisations, citing the recent experience of Somalia.