Doctors Without Borders Shocked by Killing of 5 Staff in Afghanistan

Aid Activities Suspended Nationwide

Kabul/Amsterdam, June 3, 2004 - It is with great sadness that we confirm that five Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff were killed yesterday while traveling on the road between Khairkhana and Qala-I-Naw in Badghis province.

Their names, nationalities, and functions are as follows:

Hélène de Beir, Belgian national, Project Coordinator
Willem Kwint, Dutch national, Logistician
Egil Tynaes, Norwegian national, Medical Doctor
Fasil Ahmad, Afghan national, Translator
Besmillah, Afghan national, Driver

They departed from Khairkhana at 1500 hours in a Toyota Landcruiser. Radio contact should have been established at 1545 hours, but this contact was not established. Two cars were sent to check for the vehicle, one departing from Khairkhana, the second from Qala-I-Naw. The vehicle was located at approximately 1720, approximately 25 minutes from Khairkhana in the direction of Qala-I-Naw. Initial reports from local elders suggested a tragedy had occurred. Through the efforts of the local community the vehicle was brought back to the MSF compound in Khairkhana. The vehicle was back in the compound by 1945 hours and the remaining four expatriate team members and our national staff team confirmed the shooting of our five colleagues.

The condition of the vehicle was described as having been shot through the front windscreen, through the front passenger window, and through the back windscreen. There was also shrapnel embedded in the side of the vehicle, indicating a grenade had been detonated.

It is impossible for us to give any further details as we simply don't know anything more about what happened. Nor do we know who is behind the killings or the motives for it.

We will miss Helene, Pim, Egil, Fasil Ahmad, and Besmillah very much and again extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families and friends.

Today our thoughts are with the families of those killed, but also with the people of Afghanistan whose ability to access healthcare and other humanitarian assistance is becoming increasingly compromised.

In the coming weeks we will analyze this event in depth, but for the moment our priority is to take care of those most affected by this tragedy. For the time being our activities will be suspended nationwide, except for life-saving activities. The expatriate teams of the Dutch section of MSF are currently moving to Kabul and national staff from Khairkhana are being moved to a safe location. They will all remain in these locations for the present time.

MSF has been working in Badghis province since 1999. We have been in Khairkhana since 2001, running an outpatient department. In the first four months of this year we had 6,500 consultations. MSF recently started a tuberculosis treatment program in Khairkhana and currently have 45 patients undergoing treatment for TB and expansion of the number of patients under treatment is in process. Two weeks ago the community and MSF celebrated the opening of a maternal and child health facility.

MSF has been active in Afghanistan since 1980, through the Soviet occupation, civil war, and the Taliban regime. The politicization of aid underway since the fall of the Taliban, condoned by the international community with the tacit acceptance of many non-governmental organizations, has proven dangerous for humanitarian organizations and has undercut Afghan's access to assistance that is truly needs based. Security has deteriorated and humanitarian agencies have increasingly become targets of attacks aimed against Western presence. At the moment, MSF is working in 12 of the country's provinces. MSF's activities range from primary health care to supporting hospitals. MSF also provides specialized programs such as tuberculosis treatment and mental health projects.