Reuters, Aug.14, 2002

Armed Men Rob UNHCR Office in Afghanistan

KABUL, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Armed men broke into the compound of the United Nations refugee agency in the Afghan town of Ghazni and looted communications equipment and cash, a UNCHR spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Maki Shinohara of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said three armed men locked one foreign and seven Afghan employees in a toilet on Tuesday night before stealing the agencys communications equipment and cash from a safe.

None of the UNHCR staff was hurt in the incident at their office in the center of Ghazni, about 75 miles southwest of Kabul.

"We dont know the reason and motive behind it. Nor do we know who did it, but our staff from Ghazni said that the three men were organized," Shinohara told Reuters.

Ghazni has been unstable since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, which fell after advances by opposition forces backed by heavy U.S. bombing raids late last year.

Rivalry among factions competing to fill the power vacuum has been intense in Ghazni as in other parts of Afghanistan .

In the past three months, rockets have been fired by unidentified men at the dusty city, where several hundred U.S. special forces personnel are based.

They are part of a force hunting for remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda network, accused by Washington of masterminding the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Shinohara described the robbery as the most serious security breach for the UNHCR in and around Ghazni and that U.N. agencies planned to increase security there.

The robbery was the second attack against the United Nations in Afghanistan in the past two weeks.

Earlier this month attackers hurled a grenade at the office of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the southern city of Kandahar. No one was hurt.

Shinohara said the overall security situation in Afghanistan beyond Kabul was unstable. The United Nations pulled out all of its foreign staff from the eastern town of Gardez two weeks ago because of security threats.

"Since then we have not been able to go back due to fighting by (U.S.-led) coalition forces and factional ones."

Security is the most serious challenge for the government of President Hamid Karzai, who with the help of foreign donors wants to rebuild Afghanistan after more than two decades of war.

Around 5,000 foreign peacekeepers patrol the streets of Kabul and Karzai is guarded by U.S. special forces.

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