UN officials warn of threat to aid as fighting steps up in southern Afghanistan

15 February 2010

United Nations officials in Afghanistan have called on combatants to the current fighting between Afghan and NATO forces and Taliban militants in the south of the country to respect the neutrality of humanitarian workers and to allow the provision of aid to civilians displaced by the conflict.

At least 900 families have fled Marja and Nad Ali districts of Helmand province for the nearby city of Lashkar Gah since Operation Mushtarak, a joint offensive by NATO and Afghan forces, began on Friday, according to a statement issued yesterday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

UNAMA and OCHA said UN aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the area around Lashkar Gah have been mobilized to help the displaced families, distributing 750 kits containing food supplies and other items and organizing emergency shelter. Another 6,000 kits are already in place if needed, as well as water and sanitation equipment.

Robert Watkins, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, said OCHA is holding dialogue with the military to try to ensure that aid can still be delivered to those in need.

“We are calling on combatants to respect the neutrality of the humanitarian community and humanitarian aid,” Mr. Watkins said. “The affected population must be assured of unobstructed access to basic services.”

Mr. Watkins said it was critical that “robust measures” are undertaken by the combatants to avoid civilian casualties.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on all parties not to involve or use the civilian population, humanitarian actors, or humanitarian aid for any military purposes.”

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