Source AP ©

UN to end Afghan food convoy attacks

Thirty four aid workers were killed in Afghanistan this year. The U.N. accused militants and criminals of these misdeeds. It also called on armed groups to stop attacks on humanitarian convoys so food can reach millions of poor Afghans.

Underscoring the country's increasing violence, a six-hour battle in the country's south left more than 50 militants dead and wounded, while a roadside bomb killed a U.S.-led coalition soldier in the same region.

The U.N.'s plea for access to the needy comes as Afghanistan is going through one of the most violent periods since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 5,300 people have died this year in insurgency related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Insurgents and criminal gangs have killed 34 aid workers this year, abducted 76 others and attacked or looted 55 aid convoys, said Tom Koenigs, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

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

"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."

The majority of the aid workers attacked in 2007 were Afghan nationals, including doctors, de-miners and engineers, the U.N. said.

The number of attacks on convoys has increased six-fold this year from 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 2006.

"In a majority of these incidents, food was looted ... and so far we have lost something like 1,000 tons of food," Corsino said.

The violence that has swept the country's south has prevented the WFP from moving any aid convoys in the last six weeks on the highway that connects the country's major southern city, Kandahar, and the major western city, Herat, he said.

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

Nearly 5 million Afghans need food aid. The WFP has already distributed 220,000 tons worth US$150 million (€210 million) this year, he said.

A roadside blast against a coalition patrol in Sangin district in Helmand province left a coalition soldier dead and another wounded Monday, a coalition statement said. Their nationalities were not released.

The troops were helping deliver supplies for the Afghan National Army at the time of the blast, the coalition said.

In Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah, a suicide bomber blew himself up next to a taxi stand Monday, killing three civilians and a policeman, the Interior Ministry said. Six people were wounded.

Meanwhile, in an effort to crackdown on illegal private security firms in Kabul, Afghan police raided and shut down a British-based security company on Monday.

Police arrested three Afghan guards and the Afghan director of Olympus Security Group for operating without a license, the eighth such firm to be closed this month.

"Today was No. 8. Tomorrow will be No. 9," said Ali Shah Paktiawal, director of criminal investigations for the Kabul police. Paktiawal has said previously that 12 or 13 security companies would be targeted in the closures.

Olympus, which has only a small presence in Kabul, is the first foreign security company to be shut down following the closures of seven Afghan firms. A woman who answered the phone at the company's headquarters in Gloucestershire said no one was immediately available to speak about the company's Afghan operations.

Officials say some of Kabul's security firms are suspected of involvement in criminal activity such as killings and robbery. About 60 security companies are registered with the government, but two dozen others are thought to be in existence.

NATO-led and Afghan troops launched an attack in Baluch village in Uruzgan province during a gathering of local Taliban on Sunday, said Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief.

"More than 50 enemies were killed or wounded" and 13 others detained during the joint operation, a statement from Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said.

Maj. Charles Anthony, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said "several dozen militants were killed" in the clash.

It was impossible to immediately verify the death counts.

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