Three female foreign aid workers shot dead in Afghan ambush

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three female aid workers, one of them British-Canadian, and their driver were killed by suspected Taliban insurgents yesterday in one of the bloodiest attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan.They were am-bushed as they travelled through Logar province towards Kabul.

The dead British-Canadian was Dr Jacqueline Kirk, a research fellow with the University of Ulster, said the agency they were all working for, the US-based Internationl Rescue Committee. The 40-year-old was affiliated to the university's International Conflict Research centre, based at its Coleraine campus.

The other dead were a Canadian and a Trinidadian-American. George Rupp, the IRC president, said the attack had "stunned and profoundly saddened" agency staff. "Words are inadequate to express our sympathy for the families and loved ones of the victims and our devoted team of humanitarian aid workers."

Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Logar province, said the women and their Afghan driver had been killed by small-arms fire from another car.

The IRC focuses on providing returning refugees with shelter, water and sanitation and developing the health-care system.

But the agency said it had now suspended all its humanitarian programmes in Afghanistan.

Aid agencies have restricted their work in the country because of rising violence, even though drought and high prices are putting more people under pressure. Violence not only hampered their work but 19 Afghan staff had been killed this year, they said.

The IRC website said three of its district offices had been destroyed since March. Two Afghan staff were also killed in Logar province in July last year.

The United Nations said all sides must recognise the neutrality of humanitarian workers.

Aleem Siddique, the UN spokesman in Afghanistan, said: "I condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest possible terms and urge the authorities to leave no stone unturned in the search for the perpetrators."

In each of the past three months, there have been more clashes than in any month since US-led troops toppled the Taliban in 2001.