October 2, 2008 / 11:45 AM / 11 years ago

More violence in Pakistan; U.N. children to leave

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Thursday it has ordered children of its international staff to leave Pakistan after raising its security level in the wake of last month’s suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in the capital.

Policemen collect evidence from the site of a suicide blast in the northwestern town of Charsadda, about 20 km (12 miles) of Peshawar, October 2, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

The alert came as a suicide bomber killed himself and three other people on Thursday in northwest Pakistan in an attack aimed at a prominent ethnic Pashtun politician, police said.

The politician, Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the liberal-leaning Awami National Party (ANP) that is part of the ruling coalition government, was not hurt in the attack in the northwestern town of Charsadda, police said.

The blast, the latest in a wave of bomb attacks by Islamist militants, came as the United Nations said it was raising its alert level to “security phase III” — under which children of international staff, and possibly their spouses, would have to leave the country.

“(A) number of security incidents in the recent past, including the bombing of the Marriott Hotel, have drawn attention to the prevailing security situation in the country and the potential risks to the international and national communities,” the United Nations said in a statement.

The heightened security level applied to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Quetta and nine districts of Baluchistan, it said.

A U.N. information officer in Islamabad, Ishrat Rizvi, said the world body remained committed to Pakistan. She added that the evacuation of children “doesn’t make any difference to the work of the United Nations.”

The former head of U.N. security resigned earlier this year after an inquiry faulted his department for ignoring repeated internal requests to raise the security level in Algeria ahead of a December 2007 bomb attack that killed 17 U.N. employees.

A suicide truck bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 20, killing 55 people, among them six foreigners including the Czech ambassador and three Americans.

Britain’s Foreign Office said on Wednesday it was withdrawing the children of its diplomats in Pakistan.

Aid groups and some other embassies and foreign companies are expected to follow suit by asking dependents of their international staff to leave.

The Pakistani government had issued assurances about efforts to protect foreigners after the Marriott attack but unease over the security situation has grown.

POLITICIAN TARGETED

Pakistan’s security forces are battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants in remote, semi-autonomous regions on the Afghan border. Up to 1,000 militants have been killed since August, the military said.

Hospital officials said more than a dozen people were wounded in Thursday’s attack in Charsadda.

“Obviously, Mr Asfandyar Wali was the target as the suicide bomber tried to enter his guest house but was shot by the security people. He then fell to the ground and blew up,” provincial police chief Malik Naveed told Reuters.

Wali’s ANP is fiercely opposed to militants based in the region waging a bloody campaign against the government.

There have been 89 suicide attacks across Pakistan since July 2007 in which nearly 1,200 people have been killed, according to figures issued by the military.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Worsening security has coincided with serious economic problems — a widening current account deficit, unsustainable fiscal deficit and inflation running at more than 25 percent.

Pakistan’s main stock index has shed 34.8 percent since the beginning of the year and is 41.7 percent lower than a life high set in April, while the rupee has lost 21.3 percent against the dollar this year.

Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by John O'Callaghan

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