Sat, Jan 02, 2010 - Page 4 News List

UN to withdraw some international staff from Pakistan

AP , ISLAMABAD

The UN said it would relocate about a quarter of the UN’s international staff in Pakistan, a response to the increasingly volatile security situation in the country.

At least 11 UN workers have been killed in Pakistan this year, and fears of attacks have increased over the past two and a half months. More than 500 people have died in bombings after the army’s offensive against militants in South Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban’s main stronghold near the Afghan border.

Late on Thursday night, two intelligence officials said a suspected US drone missile strike in North Waziristan had killed three people. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. It was not possible to independently confirm the report.

The reported strike follows a deadly bombing on Monday of a Shiite Muslim religious procession in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 44 people.

Also on Thursday, police said they would seek terrorism charges and life sentences against five young Americans arrested in December after allegedly making contact with Taliban leaders.

UN security managers are seeking a reduction of up to 30 percent in the UN’s international staff working inside Pakistan, a UN official said on Thursday on condition of anonymity because security details and negotiations are confidential.

However, the actual number is likely to be lower and will depend on negotiations with the various UN agency heads who oversee those workers, the official said. The UN employs about 250 international and 2,500 national staff in Pakistan.

The official said an undetermined number of national staff will likely be moved out of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province along the border with Afghanistan, and from the western province of Baluchistan. The UN scaled back its operations in Baluchistan in July after a threat by separatists who kidnapped a US aid worker earlier in the year.

In Islamabad, spokeswoman Ishrat Rizvi said around 20 percent of the world body’s expatriate workers will either leave Pakistan for six months or be relocated to safer areas within the country. She declined to give specifics on what projects or employees would be affected.

“We are not closing down any programs or projects, we are not scaling back,” she said, adding that some long-term programs might be suspended and that the UN would reevaluate the security situation in six months.

The UN began to review its operations after an October attack on the World Food Program office in Islamabad killed five people.

The goal was to see how it could operate more effectively and safely in Pakistan without disrupting its humanitarian relief and development aid.

UN operations in Pakistan since early last year have grown to some US$1 billion for the nation’s “sustainable development” needs, officials said. Since spring they have also handed out some US$475 million in emergency humanitarian aid in northern Pakistan.

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