Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Medicins sans Frontieres pulls out of Afghanistan

REUTERS , KABUL

The Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) aid group announced yesterday it was pulling out of Afghanistan after more than 20 years due to security concerns and the lack of progress in an investigation into the killing of five staff.

A statement from the group, called Doctors Without Borders in English, also complained of the "co-optation" of assistance work by the US-led military, a reference to concerns that American forces blur the boundary between military and humanitarian work.

"Of course, it's the killings of our colleagues. But linked to that, we're very unhappy with the investigation," said an MSF spokeswoman in Kabul.

MSF has been in Afghanistan since 1980, shortly after the Soviet invasion, and is one of the few organizations to remain in the country through the occupation, civil war in the 1990s and the rule of the Taliban militia that was toppled in late 2001.

The decision by the Nobel prize-winning relief agency is a blow to Afghan authorities, who rely heavily on the UN and other aid groups for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction work.

The withdrawal is another sign of deteriorating security despite the presence of around 20,000 US-led troops and 6,500 NATO-led peacekeepers. Both forces are struggling to bring stability before a landmark presidential election in October.

Three foreign MSF staff, a woman from Belgium and men from Norway and Holland, were killed last month along with two Afghans workers on a remote road in the northwestern province of Badghis, which until then had been considered a relatively safe area.

Most militant attacks have taken place in the south and east, the Taliban's traditional heartlands.

MSF accused the US military of "the co-optation of humanitarian aid ... for political and military motives."

The statement was referring to around a dozen US-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams deployed across the country to carry out civilian and military operations -- ranging from building wells to gathering intelligence.

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