Pakistan expels Save the Children staff

 

The Pakistani government has ordered foreign staff members of Save the Children to leave the country, a spokesman for the international aid group said today.

The group has come under Pakistani government scrutiny because of reports that it helped arrange meetings between the US and a doctor who allegedly helped hunt down Osama bin Laden, a charge which the group has vehemently denied.

The expulsion order comes among heightened suspicion of foreigners in Pakistan in the aftermath of the al-Qa'ida leader's killing.

Ghulam Qadri said the Ministry of Interior informed the organisation this week that its six foreign staffers would have to leave the country within two weeks, although they have since been able to extend the deadline.

Save the Children has about 2,000 Pakistani employees across the country, who will continue to work.

He said the ministry gave no reason for the expulsion: "We are working with the government to find out the details for this action." The ministry could not be reached for comment.

After the May 2011 American raid that killed bin Laden, Pakistan arrested Shakil Afridi, the doctor who allegedly helped the United States track him down.

Dr Afridi was said to have run a fake vaccination programme for the CIA to collect DNA and try to verify Bin Laden's presence at the compound in Abbottabad where US commandos found and killed him.

Dr Afridi was later convicted and sentenced to 33 years for high treason. The US has been pushing for his release and praised his actions but in Pakistan he is viewed with disdain by many including security officials for helping a foreign intelligence agency operate within its borders.

Pakistani officials have become increasingly suspicious of groups with international ties, and many aid groups have reported that it is becoming more difficult to obtain visas.

A lawyer for the doctor, Samiullah Khan, said Pakistani investigators concluded that Afridi met some foreigners in connection with the vaccination drive, including someone from Save the Children in Islamabad. Mr Khan says his client denies the charges and that he is innocent.

Save the Children is an international aid group with operations in more than 50 countries around the world that aims to improve the lives of children.

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