Source AP ©

Taliban kills 34 aid workers in Afghanistan, UN calls to stop attacks on food convoys

The United Nations on Monday said 34 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan this year and called on Taliban fighters and criminal gangs to stop attacking humanitarian convoys so food can reach millions of needy Afghans before winter.

Tom Koenigs, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, also said that insurgents and criminal gangs have abducted 76 aid workers and attacked or looted 55 aid convoys this year.

"The attacks on humanitarian aid must stop," Koenigs told reporters in Kabul.

"Those responsible for these attacks and for the insecurity are pushing the most vulnerable people outside of our reach," he said. "Those responsible for these attacks need to know that they are attacking the welfare of Afghanistan's most vulnerable communities."

Majority of the aid workers killed and abducted in 2007 were Afghan nationals, including doctors, de-miners and engineers, the U.N. said.

This year has been Afghanistan's deadliest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 5,300 people have died so far due to insurgency related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.

The number of attacks on aid convoys have also spiked, increasing six-fold this year over 2006, said Rick Corsino, the country director for the U.N.'s World Food Program. There have been 30 attacks on WFP food convoys so far this year, mainly in the country's south, compared with five attacks in the whole of 2006.

"In a majority of these incidents, food was looted ... and so far we have lost something like 100,000 tons of food," Corsino said.

The violence that has swept the country's south has prevented the WFP from moving any aid convoys on the main highway that connects the country's south and west, he said.

"We have not moved any food between (southern city of) Kandahar and Herat (in the west) for the past six weeks," Corsino said.

Authorities have six weeks to reach about 400,000 Afghan living at high elevations before winter sets in, Corsino said.

The continued conflict has caused the humanitarian situation to sharply deteriorate, Koenigs said.

Nearly 5 million Afghans need food aid, Corsino said. The WFP have already distributed 220,000 tons of food worth US$150 million (EUR210 million) this year, he said.

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