Red Cross worker killed in Afghanistan

A Swiss Red Cross worker has been shot dead in Afghanistan underscoring the lawlessness and chaos that prevails 18 months after the US led a war against the Taliban and installed a new government.

Sickened and appalled, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday temporarily froze its field operations in the country while it investigated the death of 39-year-old Ricardo Munguia, a water engineer.

Mr Munguia - the first foreign aid worker to be killed in post-war Afghanistan - was shot in the head in daylight on a remote mud road south of Kandahar, while returning from a village where he was working on a project to install water wells.

A spokeswoman for the ICRC in Geneva, Annick Bouvier, said the aid organisation was "deeply shocked and dismayed" by his "brutal and unacceptable" killing which was committed in "cold blood". Mr Munguia, who also hold El Salvadorean citizenship, is the first foreign ICRC worker to be murdered in the field for nearly two years.

The ICRC said that Mr Munguia - who was unarmed - was shot after unidentified Êgunmen intercepted two of its cars returning to Kandahar from Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province.

They shot him in the head, burned one of the cars and freed the two unarmed Afghans accompanying him with a warning not to work for foreigners again, according to local residents.

His death underscored the absence of control over most of the country by the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai, the interim president who lives in permanent fear of assassinations.

It will deepen anger within international aid organisations who are trying to help rebuild the country after 25 years of war by running projects in a country that is still dominated by warlords with private armies, anti-government militias, drug-runners and thieves.

Reminder of the instability in ÊAfghanistan - which some view as an example of what post-war Iraq might look like - come almost daily. US forces who yesterday launched a new operation in search of ÊTaliban, al Qa'ida and anti-Karzai militiamen are regularly rocketed. ÊIn recent days, six Afghan soldiers have been killed in two seperate attacks. Earlier this month, Islamist militants threatened to step up attacks in answer to the US-British invasion of Iraq.

Some aid officials have been pressing for peacekeepers to be more widely deployed to allow them to operate more easily, but the international community has balked at this, not least because it was deemed too costly and too dangerous. At present there are 5,000 peacekeepers, all in the capital, Kabul.

A Pentagon plan to deploy small military-civil teams into some provincial cities to provide security and co-ordinate foreign aid was greeted with horror among some aid agencies. They saw it as an attempt Êto co-opt them into a US military plan to use international aid to win over Afghan "hearts and minds", rather than dispensing it in areas of genuine need.

The killing will be seen by some an an ominous sign of what may be in store for post-war Iraq. Many in Kabul - both foreign and Afghan - believe that reconstructing the shattered country is a massive taks that will take years. Despite this they fear that international interest is flagging, and that the United States and the British have launched a new war before resolving the problems left by the last.

Comments