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Christian group ‘wants to stay’ in Afghanistan despite killings

August 10, 2010

BANGALORE, India

The International Assistance Mission (IAM), a Christian development agency, has rejected Taliban claims that 10 of its staff killed in an attack in Afghanistan had been trying to convert Muslims.

“Our faith motivates and inspires us, but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan,” Dirk R. Frans, IAM’s executive secretary, said in a statement at an Aug. 9 media conference in Kabul.

The 10 workers — six U.S. nationals, a Briton, a German and two local Afghan staff — were killed on Aug. 5 as they returned from a trek through the Hindu Kush mountains, where they had been providing eye care to poor and remote communities, Frans said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the workers had been spying and trying to convert Muslims.

Frans said, however, his group had been present in Afghanistan since 1966 and abided by the laws of the country, and had pledged that its aid would never be used to advance a particular political or religious standpoint. He added that the agency wants to continue its work in Afghanistan.

“IAM would not be invited back to villages if we were using aid as a cover for preaching,” said Frans.

In New Delhi, the Asia Evangelical Alliance joined condemnation of the killings.

“This is barbaric,” the alliance’s general secretary, the Rev. Richard Howell, told ENInews, saying the killings “show the increasing difficulties aid workers face in Afghanistan.”

Among the slain aid workers was Dr. Tom Little, an ophthalmologist from Delmar, NY, who led the team of nurses, doctors and logistics personnel murdered in the attack and had been based in Afghanistan since 1986.

As a senior member of IAM working with the Noor Eye Institute, Little trained the former Afghan foreign minister and presidential candidate, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

In comments reported by the BBC, Abdullah described the IAM team as dedicated people and called the attackers “enemies of the Afghan people.”

Bangalore-based development consultant David Selvaraj, who has visited Afghanistan twice, told ENInews that the killings point to “the high cost” of working in difficult situations.

“Due to 30 years of war against external forces in Afghanistan, there is so much suspicion against outsiders,” said Selvaraj, who belongs to the Church of South India, a partner denomination of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Describing the fear that prevails in Afghanistan, Selvaraj said that when he was last there, senior officials called up the security guards accompanying his team frequently and changed the team’s routes at the last minute.

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