Subject: UN told to boost security as staff protest murders in W. Timor

UN told to boost security as staff protest murders

By Elif Kaban

GENEVA, Sept 21 (Reuters) - U.N. relief workers called for better protection in conflict zones on Thursday as they marched in Geneva in protest against the killing of four colleagues.

``Enough'' read their posters, bearing the photos of three U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) workers killed by pro-Indonesian militiamen in West Timor on September 6 and of the latest victim killed by gunmen on Sunday in Guinea.

One banner carried the last e-mail message of 33-year-old Puerto Rican Carclos Caceres, one of the trio killed in West Timor, sent to a friend just minutes before he died: ``We sit here like bait, unarmed, waiting for the wave to hit.''

UNHCR says it is reviewing security following the killings of Caceres, 44-year-old Ethiopian Samson Aregahegn and 29-year-old Croatian Pero Simundza in West Timor and 50-year-old Togolese Mensah Kpognon in Guinea.

They were the latest in a series of attacks on aid workers doing vital work in conflict zones from Chechnya to Rwanda.

``We're being put in places and situations where even U.N. member states are not willing to send their troops,'' Naveed Hussain, chairman of UNHCR's staff council, told Reuters.

``We're operating in situations where the U.N. flag is not a guarantee of protection and in some cases, has even become a cause for attack. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.''

Kpognon, a father of four who headed UNHCR's office in Macenta in southeastern Guinea, was killed by unidentified attackers who tried to rob him. They abducted his Ivorian colleague Laurence Djeya, who is missing.

In West Timor, the three foreign aid workers were beaten to death and their mutilated bodies set on fire by rioters who stormed their offices as Indonesian police looked on.


At a memorial service for Kpognon at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata hit out at governments' apparent unwillingness to provide safeguards for aid staff working in dangerous countries.

``I hope no more fatal incidents will have to occur to remind governments of their responsibilities,'' she said. ``Refugee lives depend on us. But they can depend on us only if we stay alive.''

But outside, as hundreds of humanitarian workers filed silently past the U.N. building, some privately accused UNHCR's leaders of bad security management.

``These victims could have been any one of us,'' said one. ``Governments must do more to protect U.N. staff. But UNHCR must also do more. It cannot just pass the buck.''

Humanitarian workers are being killed, attacked, raped, robbed and harassed as never before. Since 1992, 198 U.N. workers have been killed on duty, 30 of whom worked for UNHCR.

The killings reflect the changing nature of aid with the rise of intra-state wars rather than conflicts between nations.

Aid workers, once protected by their status and reputation as do-gooders, are often portrayed as parties to local conflicts and become targets for belligerents.

The killings in West Timor came just a week after UNHCR resumed work there which it had suspended on August 23 after machete-wielding militiamen beat up and wounded three staffers. Many UNHCR staff privately questioned the decision.

Soeren Jessen-Petersen, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner, said the UNHCR had been given ``credible'' assurances of security from the Indonesian government before returning to West Timor.

Asked by Reuters if UNHCR had written assurances from Indonesia, Jessen-Petersen, who is head of operations for the agency, said: ``I do not know. I haven't seen them. I was told they were credible assurances.''

Ogata rejected claims of bad security management. She said she did not believe UNHCR had made any judgement errors in Timor. ``These are things that are unforeseeable,'' she told Reuters.

``I think that UNHCR should do more and could have done more in the past. We are exposing our staff to dangers beyond acceptable level and that has to be stopped,'' Hussain said.

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