Aid office closed after attack on UN

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Memorial services were held over the weekend in honor of Norwegian officer Siri Skare, killed in Friday’s attack on the UN. Meanwhile, Norway’s largest humanitarian organization in the country announced Monday it was closing its office where the attack occurred in Mazar-i-Sharif, as violent demonstrations continued to sweep across Afghanistan.

Lt Col Knut Eide, head of Norwegian troops in Afghanistan, writing his condolences during memorial ceremonies for fellow slain officer Siri Skare. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The Norwegian Refugee Council (Flyktninghjelpen) has been active building schools, providing housing and offering legal help in Afghanistan since 2003. It has had the largest presence among Norwegian aid organizations in the country, with a main base in Kabul and eight regional offices including the one in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Its secretary general, Elisabeth Rasmusson, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning that the office has been closed, at least temporarily, out of fear for its workers’ safety. “We see that it’s becoming more and more difficult, and more and more dangerous to work in Afghanistan,” Rasmusson told NRK. She stressed that the organization’s workers “must be accepted” by the people of Afghanistan. The status of the office, in what had been a relatively peaceful part of the country until video of a Koran-burning in the US unleashed Friday’s violence, would be subject to re-evaluation as officials follow the security situation, Rasmusson said.

CARE Norge also has several workers in Mazar-i-Sharif and concerns were rising for their safety as well. Officials at Norway’s military operations in the area told NRK they felt security measures were adequate for their troops.

‘Sacrifice … much too large’
A memorial service honoring Lt Col Siri Skare was held at Norway’s Camp Nidaros in Afghanistan on Sunday. “Siri made a great contribution to a country in need,” Lt Col Knut Eide, the officer in command of Norway’s troops in the country, told news bureau NTB. “Her sacrifice became so large, much too large.”

Eide said it was “always tragic when we lose one of our own, but our thoughts go first and foremost to her family and friends.” Arrangements were being made to send her body back home to Norway, probably by mid-week.

Skare’s husband and 14-year-old daughter traveled over the weekend to Skare’s hometown of Åndalsnes in the county of Møre og Romsdal, where they gathered with her parents and brother. A group of support personnel from the military joined them. A military spokesman told newspaper Aftenposten that the family declined to make any statement about their loss.

Skare lived in the valley of Maridalen in Oslo, was a career officer and best known for being Norway’s first female military pilot. She flew both Orion and Hercules aircraft, actively recruited young women to the military and had several overseas assignments, also in the US at military bases in both Florida and Alabama.

Fury not just from the Koran burning
The deaths of Skare and her UN colleagues have been linked to a Florida pastor’s highly controversial burning of the Koran, which infuriated demonstrators in Afghanistan. A Norwegian military spokesman, Petter Lindqvist, said Afghan citizens worn out by years of conflict and war are protesting “aggressively against the lack of respect they experience, and the aggression is aimed at the west in general. They don’t make the distinction between military personnel with weapons and unarmed, uniformed advisers like Skare, or civilian employees at an office.”

Arne Strand, a researcher at Christian Michelsens Institute, believes it wasn’t only the Koran burnings that infuriated the Afghan demonstrators, but also a recent increase in civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s request that international forces leave the country and recent photos of American soldiers posing with the bodies of dead Afghans, some of whom allegedly were unarmed civilians. The soldiers now face lengthy prison terms.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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