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Development 'politicization' puts aid workers at risk, says German MP

In Afghanistan, the line between military and aid workers can appear unclear - especially where both groups have similar development goals. Some commentators fear blurry boundaries are putting aid workers at deadly risk.

A uniformed German soldier stands in front of a convoy

The split between aid workers and military in Afghanistan needs to be more visible, says Tom Koenigs

The killing of an Afghanistan-based German aid worker by the Taliban over the weekend has sparked calls for a greater and more visible separation between development work and military forces in the country.

Former United Nations special representative to Afghanistan and current member of the German Bundestag Tom Koenigs stressed that aid workers are in more danger than ever.

"The workers' neutrality is no longer being acknowledged a priori, partly because their work has been politicized more and more in recent years," Koenigs said in an interview with the daily Koelner Stadtanzeiger.

"The price for that is that the development workers are perceived as part of the war. We should concentrate more on separating development work from military deployment."

Koenigs' comments come just weeks after German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg called for troops in crisis regions to work more closely with humanitarian aid agencies on the ground.

Targeting aid workers

An Afghan farmer with his son load dried tomato plants onto a cart for use as firewood

Afghanistan is still rebuilding

The most recent victim of the insurgency, an engineer working as an advisor to the German development bank KfW, was fatally wounded while travelling in a vehicle with three colleagues. One of the colleagues, an Afghan translator, was also injured in the attack.

The KfW advisor is the latest in a series of aid workers to be targeted in Afghanistan this year, which has seen a spike in the number deaths of civilian development workers. Attacks directed at UN employees working in Afghanistan have increased by more than 130 percent in 2010 compared to last year, according to the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.

In another high-profile case from September, aid worker Linda Norgrove of Scotland was taken hostage and later killed during a US-led operation to secure her release. She had been working for the American-based organization Development Alternatives Inc.

Risks ever-present

Kieran Dwyer of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said his organization attempts to minimize risks for development workers by remaining in constant contact with civilian and government leaders about possible risks.

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel called the attack on the aid worker "cowardly"

"But the security risks can only be mitigated by the way we operate, not eliminated," he told Deutsche Welle. "It's important to remember that not just foreign aid workers but also Afghan aid and government workers are targeted by insurgents.

It is not only the rising number of attacks that concerns Dwyer.

"Insurgents also began to target more regions of the country in the last year, often attacking the so-called soft targets of unarmed government and humanitarian workers," he added.

Germany has 4,800 troops in Afghanistan, most of whom are serving in the north of the country, where the attack on the KfW consultant took place. Berlin is to begin reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and to pull out of the country completely within four years.

Author: Greg Wiser (dpa)
Editor: Sophie Tarr

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