Attacks on NGOs rise sharply in 2008 – report
KABUL, 15 April 2008 (IRIN) – Attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid workers by anti-government forces, chiefly Taliban insurgents, have risen sharply in the first quarter of 2008, according to a report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).
“NGO security incidents attributed to armed opposition groups have doubled from eight in the first quarter of 2007 to 16 in the same period this year,” said Nic Lee, the ANSO director in Kabul.
Sixteen of the 29 direct attacks on NGOs across the country, from January to the end of March 2008, were initiated and/or executed by Taliban insurgents and other rebel fighters, the report said. The remaining 13 were attributed to criminals who attack NGOs mostly for financial gain.
Nine NGO workers lost their lives and nine others were wounded in seven separate armed attacks by anti-government elements, ANSO said.
Furthermore, in seven armed incidents 12 people were kidnapped, leading to two additional fatalities, including a female US citizen who worked for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation in Kandahar Province.
“Our data demonstrates a serious escalation in fatalities with nearly as many killed in the first three months of 2008 as were killed in all of 2007,” Lee told IRIN, adding that cases of abductions had also seen a marked increase.
“Difficult year” ahead?
Conflict-related violence, which was once restricted to the restive southern parts of Afghanistan, is now spreading to other parts of the country. As a result, civilians and humanitarian workers have been extensively affected, aid agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross warned.
Meanwhile, criminal groups have increasingly opted to work on behalf of the armed opposition, and have deliberately disregarded NGOs’ impartiality.
These worsening security trends are unlikely to change and aid agencies should anticipate a “difficult year” and more violence in the coming months, the ANSO said.
According to Lee, respect for humanitarian impartiality has increasingly been “eroded” among opposition forces, and NGOs have been brought into the “gravity of conflict”.
“Anywhere else in the world NGOs would, should and do operate on both sides of a conflict. Only here, for one reason or another, that sense of independence has become a lot more politicised and subject to agendas which really [they] should not be subject to, and it has become very difficult for NGOs to implement and enforce their neutrality,” he said.
To cope with the increasing security threats, many international organisations have “quietly” evacuated their international staff members from the restive province of Kandahar over the past few months, ANSO found. Others have “changed their profile” by stepping up recruitment of local people and minimising office visibility.
Rising number of civilian deaths
“The total civilian deaths recorded in the first quarter of this year is 463 compared to 264 in 2007, indicating a dire worsening of the situation for the average Afghan civilian,” ANSO said.
However, the number of civilian casualties resulting from aerial strikes and ground military operations conducted by international military forces in the first three months of 2008 had declined by about 20 percent compared with 2007.