Founder of Kabul animal shelter worries for his staff


Aug 20 (Reuters) - A former British Royal Marine who founded an animal sanctuary in Afghanistan is refusing to evacuate the country without his Afghan staff and their immediate families after the Taliban swept into Kabul last week.

Paul 'Pen' Farthing served as a Royal Marine for 22 years, fighting in Helmand province in 2006 and a year later set up the 'Nowzad' animal shelter, named after his first rescue dog in 2007.

Since then Farthing has built up a staff of 25 Afghan nationals, including three of Afghanistan's first female veterinarians.

He said he wanted them and their direct family members evacuated with him and accepted as refugees in the UK.

"My staff don't deserve the fate that awaits them if they stay here in Afghanistan," Farthing told Reuters in an interview from Kabul.

"I had an opportunity, the fact that I am a British citizen, I'm going to use that to full effect - so I've said I'm not going until my staff leave this country," he continued.

The animal sanctuary could face reprisals, Farthing said, because it was funded by foreign aid.

Under their previous rule in the late 1990s, the Taliban barred women from working. They also disapproved of dogs as pets - many Muslims view them as unclean.

On Tuesday, the Taliban's main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told a news conference in Kabul that women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam."

The Islamist militant movement has also said that NGOs should be allowed to operate in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question about whether Afghans could continue to work for foreign NGOs.

Farthing said the feeling around his community was calm, despite the Taliban moving into the neighbourhood and patrolling the street. Their behaviour had not been "overly unfriendly", he added.

The most dangerous area, he said, was around the airport where thousands of people are attempting to board evacuation flights.

"You've got the British and Americans inside and then outside you've got this throng of people; and then you have the Taliban checkpoints," Farthing said.

"It's not the Taliban causing the problem it's the amount of desperate people with no visas, no passports who are trying to get on a flight to get to America."

Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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