Taliban steal Diana fund Land Rovers
By Julian West in Islamabad
Electronic Telegraph, 6 September 1998, Issue 1199

TWO Land Rovers funded by donations to the Telegraph Princess Diana Memorial Fund from readers of The Telegraph have been stolen from a charity in Afghanistan by Taliban fighters.

The hardline militia, which has been amputating the hands of ordinary citizens accused of petty theft, stole the white vehicles from the Sandy Gall Foundation, which makes prosthetic limbs, mainly for landmine victims, and orthotic splints for children suffering from polio.

Taliban fighters are now believed to be advancing against remaining opposition forces in the vehicles, which are inscribed with the charity's logo and the words "a gift from the Telegraph Princess Diana Memorial Fund". The charity had only four Land Rovers, which were driven overland from Britain in January, to enable physiotherapists to treat landmine victims in remote villages; three have now been stolen.

The memorial fund vehicles were awarded to the foundation largely because of the Princess's campaigning role against landmines and for measures to help their victims. They were taken from the foundation's workshops in the eastern town of Jelalabad by a delegation of Taliban fighters sent from the Ministry of Defence in the capital, Kabul, with orders to confiscate all the charity's vehicles.

After the foundation protested to the local authorities, only two Land Rovers were taken. However, a third was then "borrowed" by the Taliban-appointed Director of the Jelalabad hospital, who later claimed that it had been donated to him by the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul. The Taliban authorities have ignored the Foundation's pleas for the return of the vehicles.

Sandy Gall, the former television broadcaster who started the charity five years ago, said: "We're very upset and angry, particularly since two of the Land Rovers came from the Telegraph Memorial Fund. We've treated so many amputees; and, given the conditions our people work under in Afghanistan, it's really appalling. I just hope we get them back."

Despite the Taliban's unbending public moral code, which has resulted in punishments such as stoning for adulterers and burying gays under walls, as well as public amputations of thieves' hands, the militia is becoming notorious for theft. Aid agencies say Taliban commanders frequently steal their cars and radios, despite having much better vehicles and communications equipment of their own.

"Most self-respecting Taliban commanders wouldn't be seen dead in some of our vehicles," said one aid worker. "But they still take them. It's like children seeing new toys."

But some aid workers believe that the constant thefts are part of a policy of harassing expatriate workers. In July, about 200 foreign aid workers left Kabul after the Taliban ordered all agencies, except the United Nations and the International Red Cross, to move in to an abandoned polytechnic complex on the outskirts of the city.

The Sandy Gall Foundation's last expatriate workers left Afghanistan, with other Western aid workers, after the recent United States attacks on terrorist training camps in the east of the country. But the charity, which has so far treated an estimated 12,000 amputees and is the only organisation offering outreach physiotherapy, is still operating with trained local staff.

There are believed to be several hundred thousand landmine victims in Afghanistan - one of the world's most heavily mined countries, with an estimated 10 million to 20 million mines - and fresh cases are emerging every day.

Now that the Foundation's Land Rovers have been stolen, many adults and children who have lost limbs in remote mountain areas will remain without aid.

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