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MSF Close Their Afghanistan Programme

Nutritional Surveillance - Kabul

On the 28th of July 2004 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced the closure of all medical programmes in Afghanistan. The decision was taken in the aftermath of the killing of five MSF aid workers in a deliberate attack on June 2nd, when a clearly marked MSF vehicle was ambushed in the North-western province of Badghis.

Although government officials presented MSF with credible evidence that local commanders conducted the attack, they have neither detained nor publicly called for their arrest. MSF have declared in a press statement that the lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil.

Following the assassinations, a Taliban spokes-person claimed responsibility for the murders and stated that organisations like MSF who work for American interests, are targets and would be at risk of further attacks. MSF argue that not only is this accusation false but it is particularly galling given MSF's commitment to separate aid from political agendas.

MSF has continued to provide health care throughout difficult periods of Afghanistan's history over the past 24 years, regardless of the political party or military group in power.

The MSF press statement declared that "The violence directed against humanitarian aid workers has come in a context in which the US backed coalition has consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions. MSF denounces the coalition's attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid and use it to win hearts and minds". Only recently, on May 12th 2004, MSF publicly condemned the distribution of leaflets by the coalition forces in southern Afghanistan in which the population was informed that providing information about the Taliban and al Qaeda was necessary if they wanted the delivery of aid to continue.

Until the assassinations, MSF provided health care in 13 provinces with 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff. Projects included the provision of basic and hospital level health care as well as tuberculosis treatment and programmes to reduce maternal mortality. In the weeks following the statement, MSF intend to complete the hand over of its programmes to the Ministry of Health and other organizations.

The statement concludes by stating that "As MSF leaves Afghanistan, we mourn the loss of our five colleagues. At the same time MSF takes this decision with great sadness for the people we will fail to assist".

Further information is available at: http://www.msf.org

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MSF Close Their Afghanistan Programme. Field Exchange 23, November 2004. p14. www.ennonline.net/fex/23/msf

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