Pakistan charity suspends work after killings

AFP , Wednesday 2 Jan 2013

Six women and a man, all charity workers, were shot dead in Pakistan's northwest where the Taliban and other Islamist militants are active

A Pakistani charity on Wednesday suspended its operations for three days after seven staff were shot dead in the northwest, where aid groups demanded better protection.

"The NGO has suspended its activities for three days to mourn the deaths. They will decide after three days whether to start work again or not," said Abdul Rashid Khan, police chief of Swabi district where the attack took place.

The six women and their male colleague were ambushed and shot dead on Tuesday after returning from a local community centre.

"All seven victims of the attack have been buried. Police have started to investigate but we are not yet in a position to accuse anyone," Khan said.

The organisation, Support With Working Solution, runs dozens of health and education projects, including polio vaccinations, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Taliban and other Islamist militants are active.

Tuesday's attack, for which there has been no claim of responsibility, comes days after nine polio vaccination workers were shot dead in a string of incidents in Pakistan.

There are growing concerns about a renewed surge of violence in the northwest.

On December 22 a suicide bomber killed Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and eight other people at a political meeting in Peshawar in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

And in October 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who campaigned for girls' right to an education, was shot and wounded in an attack also claimed by the Taliban.

On Wednesday, an umbrella organisation of around 200 charities in the northwest held talks on how to secure more protection, said Idrees Kamal, the coordinator of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network.

"We are here to discuss the situation and to chalk out a work strategy for the future because we need better security," Kamal said.

Other charity workers said Tuesday's attack had heightened fears.

"It has created uncertainty. We were already facing problems," said Imran Takkar, programme manager of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.

"How can a state protect its people if it can't protect its ministers?" Takkar told AFP, referring to the assassination of Bilour.

Yasrab Nazeer, provincial programme coordinator of Rahnuma which works on health projects, said the attacks were alarming.

"We are really concerned about such attacks. NGO workers, particularly women workers, feel insecure. The government will have to take steps for our protection," she said.

Imtiaz Iltaf, police chief of Peshawar, said officers were preparing a strategy to protect aid workers.

"We are in a state of war. The whole country is facing an insurgency, so we are revising the present security steps and working on a new strategy," he said.

According to Islamabad, more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

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