French U.N. official shot in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – One of two Afghan men on a motorcycle opened fire Sunday on a marked United Nations’ car, killing a French aid worker, the first international U.N. staff member slain in postwar Afghanistan. Police identified the captured assailants as Taliban militants.

Bettina Goislard, 29, an employee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was shot at close range at a shopping bazaar in Ghazni, the capital of Ghazni province in central Afghanistan. Her Afghan driver was wounded.

The attack was the latest indication that Taliban insurgents are now targeting the United Nations. Also Sunday, a remote-controlled bomb exploded near a U.N. vehicle carrying three Afghan U.N. employees in the eastern province of Paktia. They escaped injury, officials said.

On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded outside U.N. offices in Kandahar city in the south, injuring two people, including a U.N. security guard. Taliban claimed responsibility for the car bomb.

In Geneva, where the UNHCR is based, Refugee High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said Goislard’s death was “yet another dastardly assault on an innocent humanitarian worker.” He said the U.N. agency was suspending its work in Ghazni and would be conducting a review of its work in Afghanistan.

Goislard’s death outraged people in Ghazni, with some trying to find out where the gunmen lived so they could attack their homes, Khial Mohammed Husseini, deputy governor of Ghazni province, said in a telephone interview. Targeting women in execution-style killings runs counter to Afghan tradition.

“The whole nation is shocked by this act of merciless killing,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement. “The Afghan people will never forgive terrorists who kill innocent people and those who are here helping us.”

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin expressed his “profound emotion and indignation in the face of the cowardly attack.”

Goislard was one of about 800 foreign U.N. staffers in Afghanistan. She was assigned to the Ghazni region where she was responsible for the protection of 55,000 returned refugees. She worked closely with the local authorities.

David Singh, spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan in Kabul, said she was traveling in the provincial capital in a white vehicle clearly marked with the agency’s letters, UNHCR.

“Two men on a motorbike drove by her UNHCR vehicle in Ghazni bazaar, with the passenger rider opening fire at point-blank range on the vehicle,” Singh said.

Police in turn fired on the motorcycle, wounding one and capturing them both. Husseini, the Ghazni official, said both are Taliban members.

Goislard was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival, Singh said. Her body was brought to Kabul later Sunday.

The driver of her car, an Afghan national, was shot in the arm and was hospitalized in stable condition, Singh said. Another Afghan colleague was unhurt.

All U.N. staff members in Kandahar in the south, Gardez east of Ghazni, and Jalalabad east of Kabul were immediately instructed to reduce their movements and send their local staff home as a precaution.

It was the first fatal attack on a foreign U.N. worker in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted by the U.S.-led coalition two years ago, Singh said.

An Afghan U.N. worker, one of several thousand in the country, was killed in his home in northern Afghanistan in April 2002, although officials said the motive may have been robbery or a personal dispute.

Afghans working for other humanitarian organizations have also been targeted. In March, an employee of the international Red Cross, Ricardo Munguia of El Salvador, was fatally shot in south Afghanistan, allegedly on orders from the Taliban.

However most attacks since the war have targeted U.S.-led coalition forces and supporters of the Karzai’s central government, which wields little power outside Kabul.

Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy in Afghanistan, said despite the attacks the United Nations remains determined to continue its work here.

Goislard had worked in Ghazni since June 2002, following assignments in Rwanda and Guinea.

“The local people knew her very well. She was a sort of local celebrity,” UNHCR spokeswoman Maki Shinohara Shinohara said in Kabul, 125 miles northeast of Ghazni.