Swiss ICRC delegate murdered

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday condemned the killing of one its field delegates in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan, temporarily freezing all field movements in the country. The murder, the first killing of an international ICRC staff member in the country since 1990, is a grim reminder of the problems facing aid workers on the ground.

“This was a brutal and unacceptable act,” an ICRC spokeswoman, Annick Bouvier, told IRIN from Geneva on Friday. “We are shocked over what has happened.”

Ricardo Munguia, a Swiss citizen of Salvadorian origin was travelling with Afghan colleagues on an assignment to improve the water supply to the district. He was shot in cold blood on Thursday by a group of unidentified assailants who stopped the vehicles transporting them. According to an ICRC statement, no further information about the circumstances of his death was available.

However, the Associated Press, on Friday quoted local residents as saying the assailants had shot the 39-year-old water and habitat engineer in the head and burned one car, warning two Afghans accompanying him not to work for foreigners.

Whereas it was difficult to say whether Munguia was singled out because he was foreign, Bouvier conceded that he had been the only international staff member present, but said it was too early to reach such a conclusion.

In the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, 110 km south of Tarin Kowt, 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, the AP report said.

“We are all in shock and are thinking about his family,” the ICRC office director, Laurent Gisel, reportedly said.

Asked what action ICRC was taking, Bouvier explained that “for the time being, the ICRC has decided to temporarily freeze all field trips in Afghanistan, calling all staff to the main delegation’s offices”. She noted they were currently collecting information on the situation.

The largest ICRC operation in the world, ICRC Afghanistan employs 160 international staff, as well as another 1,400 national staff.

But Thursday’s murder highlights an ongoing concern among aid workers country-wide, who have long been complaining that not enough was being done to improve the country’s already fragile security - rendering humanitarian work on the ground difficult and dangerous.

Many have called for the deployment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan to be extended beyond the immediate confines of the capital, Kabul. However, there has been little international support for expanding the UN-mandated multinational security force, despite calls by the Afghan government to do precisely that.

Meanwhile, addressing the UN Security Council on Thursday to introduce the Secretary-General’s fourth report on the situation in Afghanistan, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi said that security-sector reform was paramount, as the lack of security was threatening the peace process at all levels.

One of the more pressing challenges ahead for the government, Annabi stated, was to strengthen the links between Kabul and the provinces, and also to strengthen the capacity of provincial and local governments themselves. Effective governance at the local level, with reliable fiscal, administrative and policy links to the central government, would enable the population across the country to gain confidence that the government could affect their lives positively.

But for that to happen, he went on to say, security outside Kabul must significantly improve. It was important to see security-sector reform not as an end in itself, but as a mechanism to enable the central government to extend its control over the country to allow the development process to evolve within the space created by a functioning security sector, he added.