Taliban Ousts Afghan Aid Workers

Foreign aid workers left the Afghan capital Monday in a convoy of vans and four-wheel drive vehicles after the country's Taliban rulers ordered them to move to abandoned dormitories or quit the country.

About 200 aid workers headed for neighboring Pakistan. All the aid workers had left Kabul by evening.

"The deadline passed on Sunday, but we gave them another 24 hours," said Mullah Mohammed Nabi Majrooh, deputy head of the Taliban security department. "IfÂ…we see them on the streets in Kabul (Tuesday) we will take action under our laws."

The exodus could have a devastating impact on the estimated 750,000 residents of Kabul. The aid groups provided subsidized food, medicine and clothes and were repairing neighborhoods heavily damaged by civil war.

Among the 38 aid groups that pulled out were Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Care International, Action Against Hunger, the Swedish Committee, and Children in Crisis.

Only workers from the United Nations and the International Red Cross were exempted from the relocation order and remained in Kabul.

Two weeks ago, the Taliban ordered the aid groups to relocate to dormitories once used by students of Kabul's technical schools. The battered buildings have been empty since Islamic insurgents swept Afghanistan's communists from power in 1992.

Aid workers said they feared they would be targeted for possible attacks or kidnappings and couldn't afford to refurbish the dormitories.

Kabul was relatively unscathed during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan that ended in 1989. But after 1992 and the fall of the pro-Moscow government, the capital was heavily damaged by warring Islamic factions.

An estimated 50,000 people most of them civilians were killed and thousands more were maimed. About 50 percent of the city is in ruins.

The Taliban rule roughly 85 percent of the country, while the opposition controls the remaining 15 percent, much of it in northern Afghanistan. Lawlessness in opposition-held areas has made it virtually impossible for aid organizations to operate there.

In a related development, the European Union announced Monday it would freeze funding for humanitarian aid projects in Kabul because of the Taliban's treatment of women.

The Taliban closed schools for girls and forced women off the job. Women also are publicly beaten if they are not covered by the all-enveloping robe, called a burqa.

The suspension of aid covers about $4 million, or 40 percent of all aid the EU had earmarked for Afghanistan over the next 12 months.

"There is a sort of sexual apartheid. Women are being discriminated against. It violates all sorts of principles, in particular the rules on humanitarian aid," said EU spokesman Pietro Petrucci.

He said conditions for aid workers outside the capital were slightly better and aid to the rest of Afghanistan would not be blocked. Most of the EU funing for Kabul goes toward sanitation, health and food projects.

Also Monday, a U.N. statement said the bodies of two Afghan nationals who were kidnapped July 13 while working for the United Nations were found near Jalalabad. There was no claim of responsibility for the deaths and it was not clear whether the slayings were linked to the men's work.

Written by Zaheeruddin Abdullah