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Canada calls for end to attacks on aid workers

Afghan pedestrians walk on a street in Kabul on August 10, 2010.


Canada and the United Nations marked World Humanitarian Day on Thursday with an appeal for all sides to allow aid workers to do their work in Afghanistan unmolested.

This year has been one of the bloodiest of the nine-year war.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said 19 of its staff and aid workers were attacked in the first six months of this year, 63 were abducted and seven killed.

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That toll doesn't include 10 members of a charitable medical team killed by militants on Aug. 5 as they returned from providing health care to villagers in a remote area of northern Afghanistan.

"Canada strongly condemns acts that threaten the safety of humanitarian workers," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in an emailed statement Thursday.

"Afghanistan is a very difficult and dangerous environment in which to deliver aid and we commend our partners who work to improve the lives of the Afghan people.

"Canada continues to call for unhindered access for humanitarian workers and encourages all parties to promote the safety of aid workers."

Robert Watkins, UN humanitarian co-ordinator and deputy special representative of the UN secretary general, called on all parties to allow humanitarian work to be carried out.

"Aid workers operate on the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Humanitarian workers must be protected - not targeted," Watkins said in a statement.

"They must have the space to operate without fear in Afghanistan in order to assist the most vulnerable people in this country."

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A massive increase in the number of troops on the ground has translated into an increase in the number of soldiers killed, and a UN study released last week found a 21 per cent increase in the number of civilian deaths in the first half of 2010.

The recent murders of members of the International Assistance Mission medical team in Badakhshan province prompted a revised travel warning from the U.S. government, reiterating that no area of Afghanistan is safe.

In addition to thousands of soldiers deployed in Kandahar, there are about 120 civilians in the country working for the government of Canada and many others working for aid organizations.

Foreign Affairs has not revised its travel warning for Canadians, but reiterated that "the security situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile and unpredictable."

"The threat to foreign nationals, including Canadians, from terrorist and criminal violence is high," the department said in an email response to The Canadian Press.

"The Government of Canada is not in a position to provide protection to individuals travelling independently in Afghanistan. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada continues to advise against all travel to Afghanistan."

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Officials said there are regular reviews of security in place for Canadian civilian staff in Kabul and Kandahar.

"The current measures that we have in place are sound," said the email.

The Canadian Forces provides training to all Canadian government workers deploying outside Canada, it said, including people working for Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency, Correctional Service Canada and RCMP.

In addition to the 151 soldiers and one journalist who have been killed in Afghanistan, Canadian humanitarian workers Jacqueline Kirk and Shirley Case were killed in an ambush in August 2008, and diplomat Glyn Berry was killed in a suicide bombing near Kandahar city in January 2006.

Canada continues to advise against all travel to Afghanistan.

"Canadians undertaking travel despite this warning take serious risks. Canadians already in Afghanistan should leave. The security situation remains extremely volatile and unpredictable."

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