Saturday, April 02, 2011

Afghanistan: UN strongly condemns deadly attack against staff in Afghanistan

A scene from the protests that took place at the UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. UN Photo

UN - The Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have strongly condemned today’s attack in Afghanistan in which a large crowd of demonstrators angry at the burning of a copy of the Koran by a United States group stormed a United Nations compound and killed a number of people, including three UN staff members.

The attack took place about 4:30 p.m. at an operations centre for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, according to information released by the mission.

UNAMA has confirmed that three international staff working with the mission were killed, as well as four Nepalese Gurkha soldiers serving as guards at the operations centre. An unconfirmed number of Afghan demonstrators were killed. Many staff were also wounded, including the head of UNAMA’s office in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters that the demonstration was one of several held across Afghanistan today in protest at last month’s burning of a Koran by a Christian group based in the state of Florida.

He said many of the demonstrators in Mazar-i-Sharif were armed and, while the security guards tried their best, the crowd was so large that they were soon outnumbered.

Mr. Ban described the attack as “outrageous and cowardly” and said it “cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

In a statement the Secretary-General said those killed “were dedicated to the cause of peace in Afghanistan and to a better life for all Afghans. These brave men and women were working in the best tradition of the United Nations and gave their lives in the service of humanity.”

The Security Council issued a press statement in the wake of the attack, with its 15 members condemning “all incitement to and acts of violence” and expressing their deep condolences to the families of the victims.

The Council called on Afghan authorities to take “all possible steps” to protect UN personnel and premises, and to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, according to the statement, read out by Ambassador Nestor Osorio of Colombia, which holds the rotating monthly presidency.

Mr. McNorton told the UN News Centre that the attack would not deter UNAMA from carrying out its work.

“We remain committed to supporting the Afghan people and to ensuring that they are able to obtain a better life. We remain committed to the cause of peace,” he said.

Mr. McNorton said the brutal nature of the attack was nevertheless being felt across the UN community in Afghanistan, where UNAMA and many UN agencies operate.

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA, has arrived in Mazar-i-Sharif to lead a team that is investigating the attack and assessing the situation.

A senior team from UN Headquarters, including Mr. Ban’s Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar and Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gregory Starr, is also on its way to the country to review the security situation.

Wounded staff have been evacuated from Mazar-i-Sharif, but Mr. Le Roy stressed that the UN would continue to have a presence in the city.