South Asia

Afghanistan: UN defiant after Mazar-e Sharif killings

An Afghan policeman stands near the wreckage of a burned-out vehicle at the UN headquarters in Mazar-e Sharif (2 April 2011)
Image caption Guards at the UN compound in Mazar-e Sharif were overwhelmed by demonstrators

A UN official has said the recent violence in Afghanistan will not drive its mission out of the country.

Mission head Staffan de Mistura said staff in Mazar-e Sharif, where seven UN workers were killed on Friday, would be redeployed to Kabul temporarily.

The attack, after a protest against the burning of a Koran in the US last month, was the worse on the mission since the US-led invasion in 2001.

Ten people died in Kandahar on Saturday during a protest over the same issue.

Hundreds of people took part in the demonstration. Gunfire was heard and cars were set on fire.

'Pastor to blame'

Speaking on a visit to Mazar-e Sharif, Mr de Mistura said Friday's attack "should not deter the UN presence, activities in this country in this delicate and particularly crucial period".

He said the only person who could be blamed for the violence was a pastor at the Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center.

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Media captionThe BBC's Paul Wood says the authorities in Kandahar have blamed the Taliban for the protests

"I don't think we should blaming any Afghan for the news, we should blaming the person who has produced the news, in other words the one who burnt the Koran," he said.

"Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions."

Mr de Mistura said staff would be redeployed to Kabul until their office was rebuilt.

However, there is no move yet to evacuate them from Afghanistan, as happened in 2009 after an attack on a UN guesthouse.

The authorities in both Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif said the Taliban carried out the attacks. However, the Taliban has rejected the accusation.

UN staff remain on maximum security alert and under lockdown, says the BBC's Paul Wood in Kabul.

The demonstrations were angered by the actions of Pastor Wayne Sapp, who during a service on 20 March at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, soaked a Koran in kerosene, staged a mock trial during which the Islamic holy book was found guilty, and then set it alight.

The incident took place under the supervision of Pastor Terry Jones, who last year drew condemnation over his aborted plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

Witnesses said the protest in Mazar-e Sharif, which began outside the central Blue Mosque after Friday prayers, began peacefully but suddenly turned violent.

The crowds moved to outside the UN compound, where a small group broke away.

Several demonstrators were killed by guards at the compound, who were then overpowered by the mob.

Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the group seized weapons from the guards and opened fire before storming the building.

One of the dead was a Swedish national, while another came from Norway. The other foreign victims are believed to have been a Romanian and four Nepalese guards.

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