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Red Cross halts most Pakistan aid in wake of doctor's beheading

Pakistani volunteers carry the coffin of British aid worker Khalil Dale, before handing it over to Red Cross officials in Quetta on April 30.
Pakistani volunteers carry the coffin of British aid worker Khalil Dale, before handing it over to Red Cross officials in Quetta on April 30.Banaras Khan / AFP - Getty Images, file

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said late Tuesday it was halting most aid programs in Pakistan due to fears over deteriorating security – a concern underscored early Wednesday when 19 soldiers and militants were killed in a clash at a military checkpoint.

The independent global aid agency, which rarely suspends its operations even in war zones, has worked in the country since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 - but was shaken by the discovery in April of the beheaded body of British doctor Khalil Rasjed Dale, one of its health workers.

It said it would carry on working in the country "but on a reduced scale," having already suspended operations in three of Pakistan's four provinces in May pending a security assessment.

Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Islamabad, said in a statement: "We are ready to continue helping people in need, such as the wounded and the physically disabled, provided working conditions for our staff are adequate. In the coming weeks, we will coordinate with the Pakistani authorities the resumption of health services as conditions permit, in particular the re-opening of our surgical hospital in Peshawar, which closed down after the murder of our colleague."

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The statement said the ICRC's partnership with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and support for physical rehabilitation services, notably in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, will continue, as will the assistance provided by the ICRC for families seeking to restore and maintain contact with Pakistanis detained abroad.

The killing of an ICRC official in Quetta had seriously worried staff members of the organization about their security in Pakistan, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Dale, who converted to Islam, ran a health program in Quetta when he was kidnapped on January 5 while going home from work.

His body was found on April 29 with a note that said the ICRC’s failure to pay ransom was the reason for his killing.

Red Cross doctor found beheaded in Pakistan

Dale was the third foreigner beheaded in Pakistan, after Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak in 2009.

The Pakistan Taliban have been fighting a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani state since the group was formed 2007, Reuters reported. It is close to al-Qaida and it claimed credit for a failed car bomb attempt in New York's Times Square in May 2010. 

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Meanwhile at least 19 people - nine Pakistan Army soldiers and 10 militants – were killed and 16 others injured in clashes between the Pakistani security forces and militants at the remote mountainous Ghatsar area of Tiarza, South Waziristan, on Wednesday.

Senior military officials said dozens of militants had attacked military checkpoints located in the mountains on Tuesday night that led to heavy fighting in the area.

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"The militants attacked our checkpoints with heavy weapons last night,” said a senior Pakistani military official based in Wana, the main administrative city of South Waziristan tribal region.

“The soldiers retaliated and engaged the militants. Fighting is still going on in which nine soldiers lost their lives. The security forces had killed 10 militants and injured several others in the overnight clashes.”

South Waziristan, which is one of Pakistan's seven autonomous tribal regions, is mostly controlled by Pakistani militants, Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives making it difficult for the government and its armed forces to carry out their responsibilities.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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