UN refugee chief outraged at killing of staffer in Pakistan

The head of the United Nations refugee agency voiced his outrage at the shooting death of a staff member at a camp outside the north-west Pakistani town of Peshawar today.

The murder of Zill-e Usman, a 59-year-old Pakistani national who had served with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 1984, is the third killing of the agency’s staff in the country in the past six months.

“There is no justification for attacks on humanitarian workers dedicated to the protection and care of the most vulnerable people,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Mr. Usman was shot by unidentified gunmen in the Kutcha Gari camp on the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Four to five gunmen reportedly opened fire as he was walking back from the camp administrative office to his car during a routine visit to the site.

Another staff member was injured in the incident but is in stable condition in a nearby hospital, according to UNHCR. A guard working with a government-funded agency known as the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees was also killed.

Mr. Usman, who leaves behind a wife and four children, was working on the repatriation of people displaced by a conflict in Pakistan’s tribal areas that broke out in August 2008.

UNHCR is providing assistance to some two million people displaced in NWFP by more recent fighting between Government forces and militants in regions surrounding the Swat Valley.

Earlier this year, Syed Hashim, a UNHCR driver, was killed in the February 2nd kidnapping of John Solecki, head of the agency’s Quetta office, who was later released. Then on June 9, staff member Aleksandar Vorkapic died in the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar.

Mr. Guterres called on all armed groups to cease attacks on humanitarian workers whose mission is to provide protection and assistance to the needy.

“It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers doing such vital and selfless work are attacked in this way,” said Mr. Guterres. “We urge all armed groups to show respect for their countrymen and for innocent civilians as well as for the humanitarian workers who are providing life-saving assistance.”

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