Press conference with UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura

3 Apr 2011

Press conference with UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura

KABULStaffan de Mistura: I will start first speaking to the Afghan colleagues. I have just returned a few minutes ago from Mazar-e-Sharif.

I was waiting at the airport to receive our dead colleagues, to be received in dignity, and they have just arrived. And we were there together with the ambassadors of the countries who lost their own citizens.

I flew yesterday as soon as we heard about the attack, while the attack was taking place. And I was able to go to the premises, to our office, after the attack had just ended. There will be an enquiry but I can indicate to you some of the facts: a demonstration of about 2,000 to 3,000 people took place in Mazar-e-Sharif. The demonstration started peacefully, it was meant to protest against this insane and totally despicable gesture by one person who had burnt the holy Koran a few days ago. 

The demonstration did not attack the American consulate which was there, because the American consulate has not been opened yet, and it was diverted instead towards the UN building.

The UN building was protected by some Afghan police and by our own Gurkhas. Some insurgents, probably between seven and 15, we don’t know the exact number, some have been arrested by the Governor’s police, had infiltrated the demonstration. And the demonstration started turning violent with stones being thrown and shooting by some of them, probably the insurgents who had infiltrated, and who had guns. 

The police were not able to stop them and the Gurkhas did not shoot at them. The UN does not shoot at crowds, even if they’re threatening, and therefore they took over. They entered the building, they found our four colleagues who were there. In spite of Friday they were working. One of them survived because he claimed to be Muslim and they let him go. Although he was beaten, they let him go. The other three were killed one after the other. These are our civilian colleagues. One from Romania, a political officer, one lady from Norway an advisor and then we had one Swedish young colleague who was involved in human rights. And four Gurkhas died trying to protect the UN, but they were not shooting. Seven of them therefore have died.

I saw the Governor who is very sad and very sorry for what has happened and he has assured he will do everything he can to increase the security arrangements, and that he was caught by surprise the demonstration, which was authorized, but turned out to be infiltrated.

Having assessed the situation and having discovered, by going into the office, that the office is destroyed, I have decided to redeploy - I repeat redeploy, not evacuate - temporarily to Kabul, 11 of our international staff, who otherwise would not be able to operate until we reconstruct a new office.

This is not an evacuation; it is a temporary redeployment, because the office isn’t functioning. And we will be ready to go back as soon as we can re-establish an office that is secure enough. The Secretary-General is of the opinion, and I am of the same opinion, this should not deter the UN presence and activities in this country, in this delicate and particularly crucial period.

What happened is not in the Afghan culture. The Afghan’s knew, and the people in Mazar-e-Sharif know, what these people were doing: human rights and political assistance to the Governor in order to be able to do capacity-building for the future.

I am profoundly sad and I am also shocked by what I saw, but we do continue our work. We are not going to be deterred.

Thank you. Any questions from the Afghan side and then we’ll have opportunities on the international side.

No questions.