In Afghanistan, UN staff remember the ‘quiet heroes’ killed in mob attack

UN Mission holds memorial ceremony for staff killed in the 1 April 2011 attack in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

5 April 2011 – In a solemn ceremony held in Kabul and repeated at each of the 22 regional and provincial United Nations offices across Afghanistan, UN staff paid tribute today to the colleagues who lost their lives on Friday when they were killed by a mob of protesters that had stormed an operations centre.

Three UN international staff and four international security guards were slain in Mazar-i-Sharif when a crowd of around 3,000 people protesting against the burning of a Koran in the United States unleashed their anger. It was the third direct attack against UN personnel in Afghanistan in the past 18 months.

Hundreds of UN staff, diplomats and Afghan Government representatives gathered in Kabul for the main ceremony, where Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, lauded the “dedication to reduce the suffering of our fellow global citizens” shown by the seven who were killed.

“This is a steady aspiration,” he said. “It breeds in us a long-term commitment to provide hope when there is despair [and] some measure of comfort when there is none. Sometimes we are overwhelmed but our cause is not just a future cause but a present one. Humanity depends on it today more than ever.”

Mr. Nambiar said senior UN officials would look again at how to strengthen and improve the conditions for the Organization’s staff, particularly in dangerous locations.

“We cannot allow the situation to endure where we are either so open that we are vulnerable to those who target us or so secure that we cannot be effective.”

The three UN staff killed – described by colleagues as “our quiet heroes” – all worked for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA): Joakim Dungel, a human rights officer from Sweden; Filaret Motco, a political affairs officer from Romania; and Lieutenant Colonel Siri Skare, a military adviser from Norway.

Four Nepalese Gurkhas who were guarding the UN centre were also killed – Dil Prasad Gurung, Chhabi Lal Purja Pun, Narayan Bahadur Thapa Magar and Min Bahadur Thapa.

Staffan de Mistura, the head of UNAMA and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, paid special tribute to the guards during his remarks to the memorial ceremony.

“Some people call them contractors. For us they are colleagues. They’ve been risking their lives for us… And they’ve been dying with us, and for us,” he said.

Rangin Spanta, a security adviser for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told the ceremony that “even for those of us who have known decades of suffering, what happened in Mazar-i-Sharif is beyond comprehension.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to staff expressing his shock and sadness at the killings in Afghanistan, as well as yesterday’s fatal plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and incidents in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti that also resulted in the deaths of UN staff in the past week.

“Our fallen colleagues were working in the best tradition of the United Nations, far from home in dangerous places,” he wrote. “They gave their lives in the service of humanity; their dedication will continue to inspire us.”

Mr. Ban will lead a wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York tomorrow, and UN offices worldwide will fly the UN flag at half-mast.


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