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Reflex: Czech People in Need NGO considers future in Afghanistan

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Prague, June 11 (CTK) – The Czech People in Need (CvT) organisation, the biggest Central European NGO, is considering the future of its well-established mission in Afghanistan after nine of its Afghan workers were murdered recently, Veronika Bednarova writes in the latest issue of weekly Reflex out yesterday.
The nine victims, eight men and one woman, were killed in the Zari district in the relatively calm Balkh Province on June 2.
The CvT operates in 29 countries, has around 1000 employees and its budget is one billion crowns this year.
Its team in Afghanistan has 230 locals, one woman and two men from the Czech Republic, one woman from each Denmark, Germany and Poland, and one man from each Britain, Nepal and the United States, Bednarova writes.
The CvT is one of the strongest and most experienced humanitarian groups in Afghanistan. It has 11 offices in the country, the two main being in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the Balkh Province in the north of the country. It operates programmes with an annual turnover of 100 million crowns.
People in Need came to Afghanistan in 2001. It opened its first branch one year later in the Balkh Province that was paradoxically the most dangerous at that time, Bednarova writes.
The mission started as a humanitarian one. “We gained money mainly from fund-raising organised in the Czech Republic under the name SOS Afghanistan. Now, we have been intensively working on the reconstruction of the country and we are supported by large world donors who trust us. We invest a lot of money precisely in security,” Jan Mrkvicka, director of the CvT’s humanitarian and development section, is quoted as saying.
” The (June 2) attack may not have directly targeted us, but the organisations that symbolise the effort to stabilise the country in general,” Mrkvicka, who stood at the birth of the Afghan mission, said.
He said the murders may have not been engineered by the Taliban, but that the attack resulted from the ongoing political struggle for power in the province.
Mrkvicka arrived in Afghanistan half a year after the mission was established in 2002. He said the CvT then built the first schools (now there are hundreds of them) in Afghanistan and the first clinics.
“In 2002, I was flying to Kabul with 40,000 dollars in cash in my pocket. Now, banks function there normally, infrastructure has been built, it takes a few hours ride along an asphalt road to arrive in Zari compared with two days previously,” Mrkvicka said.
The previously scorched land is green now, agriculture fares well, irrigation systems and small hydropower plants that are among the CvT’s many projects built in the country function excellently, but security has been continually worsening since 2002, Mrkvicka said.
The protection of its employees is the priority of every well operating non-government organisation, Bednarova writes.
The CvT shut all of its branches immediately after the June 2 tragedy for security reasons and with regard to the victims, Bednarova writes.
“We do ask ourselves whether it is meaningful to be in the country. The toleration to the measure of the risk involved is different in the countries where fighting is underway, such as in Syria and Ukraine, where we litterally save lives,” Mrkvicka said.
He said in Syria, which foreigners must not even enter, the CvT has two offices – in Aleppo and Idlib – and a hundred of employees.
“I mention Syria because many people would die of hunger if we left it. If we closed down the mission in Afghanistan, the immediate impact will not be that dramatic. But what will happen if all NGOs withdraw from Afghanistan? Life for the militant extremist forces there will be much easier,” Mrkvicka said.
Bednarova writes that thanks to international aid, Afghanistan relatively functions in spite of the existing danger. Trade fares well, people earn money and attend schools, and that is why it is more difficult to radicalise them. This is what not all in the country like, she adds.
Mrkvicka said the closing of the whole CvT mission in Afghanistan is not on the order of the day, which does not apply to the Zari branch, however.
“We will not send there anyone without clear safety guarantees,” Mrkvicka said.
Bednarova writes that a suport team headed by CvT director Simon Panek left for Afghanistan immediately after the tragedy. The locals, whose trust the CvT has earned during the years of its activities in the country, are terrified.
Panek told Reflex by phone that the CvT wants to continue working in Afghanistan, “but not at any cost,” Bednarova writes.
($1=24.220 crowns)

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