Kidnapped ICRC staff freed in Afghanistan

20th August 2014, Comments 0 comments

Five staffers from the International Committee of the Red Cross have been released, six days after they were kidnapped in Afghanistan, the aid agency said Wednesday.

"Our five colleagues are free. They are in good health and have been reunited with their families, which was the most important thing for us," Monica Zanarelli, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, said in a statement.

The aid workers, all of them Afghans, were kidnapped on August 14 in the western province of Herat and were released unconditionally, the ICRC said.

The humanitarian organisation described the kidnappers as members of a local armed group, but did not elaborate.

"We remain committed to pursuing our activities for people suffering the effects of the conflict in Afghanistan," Zanarelli said.

"Once again, we are calling for greater respect for the ICRC's humanitarian work all over the country. Our staff must be allowed to work in safety," she added.

The Swiss-based ICRC focuses much of its work on helping people in conflict zones, and is also a global watchdog for the Geneva Conventions on conduct during warfare.

Its delegation in Afghanistan, set up in 1987 during the Soviet war in the country, works on water and sanitation for local residents, helps war-wounded, visits prisoners, and acts as a neutral intermediary to help keep conflict-affected families in touch.

There have been a string of kidnappings in Afghanistan recently, notably in Herat, where two Finnish aid workers were shot dead in July.

Violence by the Taliban and likeminded insurgents against Westerners has been growing in Afghanistan as foreign troops wind down combat operations after a 13-year war against the Taliban, with the majority of NATO's 44,000 troops due to leave by the end of the year.

In April, an Afghan police officer killed three Americans, including a doctor working for the aid group CURE International in Kabul.

According to figures published this week by the United Nations, Afghanistan was the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers last year, with 81 deaths, ahead of Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan and Sudan.

In 2010, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of 10 staff members of the charity International Assistance Mission -- six Americans, a German, a Briton and two Afghans -- in an isolated region of eastern Afghanistan.

The hardline Islamists accused the victims of having been Christian missionaries.

© 2014 AFP

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