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U.N. to Get Armed Escorts in Afghanistan

May 15, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The United Nations announced Thursday its staff would travel with armed government escorts in southern Afghanistan, hours after gunmen fired at a mine-clearing vehicle in the country’s east, wounding two Afghan workers.

Later Thursday, a British soldier was wounded in Afghanistan’s capital when an Afghan man threw a grenade at a British peacekeeping base, a spokeswoman for the multinational force said.

The attack on the mine-clearing vehicle happened on the main road between the eastern towns of Gardez and Khost, said Maki Shinohara, a U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman. The Afghan mine clearers were working with the United Nations in the area, Shinohara said.

The driver was shot in the chest and one mine clearer suffered superficial head wounds, Shinohara said.

The United Nations suspended road travel between Gardez and Khost after Thursday’s attack, one of many ambushes on Afghan roads in recent weeks that have also killed an international Red Cross worker.

Meanwhile, a suspected terrorist accidentally blew himself up Thursday while trying to plant a land mine outside a government office in southern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, a senior security official said.

In the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, police loyal to ethnic Tajik warlord Gen. Atta Mohammed clashed Thursday with soldiers loyal to his ethnic Uzbek rival, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. The gunbattle left one of Mohammed’s men wounded and one of Dostum’s soldiers dead, said Gen. Abdul Sabor, a senior commander loyal to Mohammed.

U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the Afghan government has agreed to provide escorts for U.N. vehicles in the provinces of Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, the southernmost part of Uruzgan and eastern Farah.

``United Nations agencies are informing the authorities of routes most commonly used in these provinces. Whenever feasible, aid agency personnel from different agencies will travel together,″ he said.

``These measures reflect our commitment to continue operations in all areas to the maximum extent possible.″

Almeida e Silva said U.N. road missions in other provinces in the country would not require armed escorts, but trips in volatile provinces farther east along the Pakistan border were being approved on a case-by-case basis.

Last week, operations of the U.N. Mine Action Center for Afghanistan were suspended in ``insecure areas″ on the road from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar after its mine clearers were attacked.

Rebel fighters have stepped up attacks on government buildings and foreigners since March, as part of a campaign to destabilize President Hamid Karzai’s fragile interim government.

Suspected Taliban fighters have been blamed for launching several attacks in the last two months in southern Afghanistan, including the killings of the Red Cross worker and an Italian tourist. Seven deminers have been injured and one killed. Four U.S. soldiers have also died in fighting with suspected Taliban militias.

Update hourly