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thedrifter
03-29-03, 07:04 AM
Mar 29, 2:56 AM EST

Red Cross Weighs Options in Afghanistan

By AMIR SHAH
Associated Press Writer





KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Stunned aid workers in Afghanistan weighed their options Friday, a day after gunmen shot to death a Red Cross water engineer and warned Afghans against helping foreign workers.

Ricardo Munguia, 39, a citizen of both Switzerland and El Salvador, was the first foreign aid worker killed since a U.S.-led military campaign ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001. His death underscores the danger in the countryside, where warlords still rule and gangs roam despite efforts by President Hamid Karzai's government to impose order.

The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations in Afghanistan, its largest relief effort around the world.

"Today is a black day," said Javid, an Afghan working for the Red Cross in Kabul. "This man came from the West to help the Afghan people. It is a shame for us."

The ICRC, one of the biggest nongovernmental organizations active in Afghanistan, has about 160 foreign and 1,500 Afghans working for it around the country.

They run vaccination programs, help out at hospitals and clinics, and collect data on the millions of anti-personnel mines littering the country. They also supervise development projects and monitor international humanitarian agreements.

"The Red Cross is well known by the local population," said Simon Schorno, spokesman at the Red Cross headquarters in Kabul, the Afghan capital. He said the killing "came as a shock."

Yet aid organizations have complained about the lack of security outside the capital, where a 5,000-soldier international security force supports Afghan police.

Several aid organizations withdrew or reduced operations in northern Afghanistan after threats and attacks, including last year's rape of an American aid worker.

The Red Cross said gunmen intercepted two of its cars Thursday on the dirt road to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan as they returned from Tarin Kot, a town of several thousand people where Munguia was developing wells.

They shot the water engineer in the head, burned one car and warned two Afghans accompanying him not to work for foreigners, according to Tarin Kot residents.

"He was shot in cold blood," Red Cross spokeswoman Annick Bouvier said in Geneva.

No one has claimed responsibility and no arrests have been made, but local authorities were blaming Taliban fugitives and their allies.

In Kandahar, 70 miles south of Tarin Kot, foreign workers were closeted in a room of the Red Cross office, while Afghan employees sat silently or talked quietly in small groups outside, waiting for word from headquarters in Geneva.

"We are all in shock and are thinking about his family," said Laurent Gisel, the office director.

Some Afghan workers said they would not be intimidated.

"We will continue our work. We are not afraid," said Zabi Ullah, 28, a guard at the Red Cross building in Kabul.

Munguia joined the Swiss-based ICRC in 1999 and served in Colombia, Congo and Angola.

The humanitarian agency, created in the 19th century, works in some of the world's most dangerous places. It last lost staff members in April 2001, when unknown assailants in Congo shot and hacked six workers to death in what was the deadliest attack on the aid group in five years.

In 1996, six Red Cross nurses were slaughtered in their sleep at a hospital in Chechnya. Three Red Cross workers also were killed in Burundi that year.


Sempers,

Roger