UN staff returning to troubled city in western Afghanistan to resume operations

United Nations staff are gradually returning to the troubled city of Heart in western Afghanistan, where the offices of the UN mission and agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were ransacked and seriously damaged on Sunday, to try to restore the world body’s operations there.A new UN compound should be ready for operations within a week, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told reporters today at a press briefing in the capital Kabul.Manoel de Almeida e Silva said 43 staff have returned to Herat in the past two days to join the 15 international staff and hundreds of Afghan personnel who stayed on in the city after Sunday’s wave of violence.The returning UN workers, who include engineers, will help install 20 to 25 portable units that can be used both as offices and as staff accommodation. The units have satellite and Internet communications, and also contain bedding, furniture and generators. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also resumed its operations to Heart, sending a convoy of trucks carrying 170 tons of food to the city from the neighbouring province of Ghor to alleviate the suffering caused by the long-running drought in the west. But Mr. de Almeida e Silva said the UN staff in Heart are continuing “to proceed with caution and prudence” given that the offices or compounds of UNAMA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were all targeted. Local police say they have recovered three UN cars and 68 other items belonging to the world body. Meanwhile, hundreds of returning Afghan refugees who were stranded on the Iranian side of the border near Herat since the weekend’s violence forced UNHCR to halt operations have now resumed their journey home. Some 1,627 Afghans, travelling in a convoy of buses, crossed the border this morning and later passed through Herat without incident, UNHCR reported.