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Four workers for UN mine-clearing agency first reported civilian deaths in Afghanistan

Four workers for UN mine-clearing agency first reported civilian deaths in Afghanistan

Four members of a local mine-clearing organization funded by the United Nations were killed in Afghanistan last night during the bombardment of the capital, Kabul, a UN spokesperson said today.

Stephanie Bunker, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, told reporters in Islamabad that the four were killed when an office of the Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) was hit and destroyed. In addition, four ATC staff sustained minor injuries and were given first aid at a local hospitals.

ATC is one of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working under the umbrella of the UN Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan.

The UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mike Sackett, today appealed to the international community to meet its obligation to protect innocent civilians while military strikes were going on. "People need to distinguish between combatants and those innocent civilians who do not bear arms," he said. "They also need to be mindful of protecting assets essential for the survival of Afghan civilians. Staff are clearly the most importance resource the aid community in Afghanistan has."

A UN official briefing reporters in New York said the four civilians killed were working as security guards for ATC, which is the oldest and largest anti-mine organization funded by the UN in Afghanistan. Employing over 1,100 Afghans, it is the organization "with which the UN has the closest possible relationship," said Martin Barber, the Head of the UN Mine Action Service.

Mr. Barber warned that with a greater number of people on the move in Afghanistan, the risk posed by mines and unexploded ordnance was rising. The UN's anti-mine programme in the country, which has been in place for over a decade, employs over 4,000 Afghans working in nine Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and six international NGOs.

The Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Caroline McAskie, stressed that the UN was making every effort to protect its local staff in Afghanistan. "We encourage them to keep in touch with all available information and to make the decisions themselves for their own safety and for the safety of their families," she said. "We make it very clear that that's their first priority and that's our first priority."