UN pulls back from Afghanistan

The UN refugee agency began pulling foreign staff out of large swathes of southern and eastern Afghanistan today in the wake of the killing of a French worker, a decision that could affect tens of thousands of Afghan returnees.

The UN refugee agency began pulling foreign staff out of large swathes of southern and eastern Afghanistan today in the wake of the killing of a French worker, a decision that could affect tens of thousands of Afghan returnees.

Some 30 foreign staff members were being withdrawn, and refugee centres in the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Paktia, Khost and Kandahar were being closed, said Filippo Grandi, the chief of mission in Afghanistan at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We are taking today a painful decision to temporarily reduce staff in the eastern and southern provinces,” said Grandi. “We will review the situation after two weeks.”

He said refugee departure offices in the Pakistani frontier cities of Peshawar and Quetta were closed. He said the Afghan government had been informed of the agency’s decision.

The withdrawal of international staff follows a series of attacks on the United Nations in recent days, including the drive-by killing of Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old UNHCR worker, as she travelled through a bazaar in a clearly marked UN vehicle in the city of Ghazni, 60 miles southwest of the capital.

There was also a bomb attack on a UN vehicle in eastern Paktia province. And on November 11, a car bomb exploded outside UN offices in Kandahar, injuring two people.

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