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UNHCR bids farewell to murdered colleague


UNHCR bids farewell to murdered colleague

Bettina Goislard was buried today in Kabul's historic British Cemetery by her family, UNHCR colleagues, diplomats, relief officials and government ministers following a sombre funeral ceremony.
20 November 2003
Ghazni governor Haji Asadullah Khalid laying flowers at the funeral in Kabul.

KABUL, Nov. 20 (UNHCR) - Twenty-nine-year-old Bettina Goislard was buried today in Kabul's historic British Cemetery.

The young French aid worker, who had come to Afghanistan to help returning refugees, was buried alongside explorers, archaeologists, soldiers and tourists who had lost their lives over the last 150 years in the country.

She was the first UN official to be killed in the country since the Taliban government fell in late 2001.

Goislard was laid to rest by her family four days after her brutal murder by motorcycle gunmen in Ghazni town, where she worked helping Afghans rebuild their lives and their country. Her killers were immediately apprehended and are currently in the custody of Afghan police.

Her parents, sister and brother led the mourners at the sombre ceremony. They were joined in the chill of a sunny autumn day by her close UNHCR colleagues, other UN officials, aid workers and diplomats.

A number of senior Afghan government officials were present to pay their last respects to Goislard, who was widely respected in Ghazni, where she had worked since arriving in Afghanistan in June 2002.

Since her murder last Sunday, Goislard has been praised by a multitude of Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai. A spontaneous cortege of 80 vehicles carrying grieving Afghans accompanied her body on its final trip from Ghazni to the capital.

"Bettina loved Afghanistan with a passion," her family said on their arrival in Kabul a day before her burial. "All her colleagues naturally became her second family."

"There will only ever be one Bettina in our hearts, and we would like to pay homage to all those who put their lives at risk every day to serve the noble cause they believe in," her family said. "She paid with her life for her commitment and her convictions, conscious of the importance and the difficulties of her mission."

Haji Asadullah Khalid, governor of Ghazni province, laid flowers on her coffin before it was lowered into the ground. He was joined at the ceremony by Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.

"The lady who has sacrificed her life, she loved Afghanistan much more than those who have killed her," said the Interior Minister.

Goislard's funeral was held earlier in the chapel of Kabul's Italian embassy, led by an Italian bishop in the company of a French army chaplain. Other Afghan government officials present included the Ministers of Finance, Refugees and Repatriation, and Women's Affairs. Many mourners who wished to attend but could not enter the crowded chapel waited outside.

The coffin, draped in a pale blue UN flag, was carried from the chapel to the British Cemetery in a white UN vehicle. The crowds of people, animals and vehicles that normally throng Kabul's streets parted as the long cortege passed. Goislard was escorted to her final resting place by Afghan police and soldiers from the International Security Assistance Force, which is helping to secure the city and Kunduz, to the north.

Goislard had told her closest friends and family that she wanted to be buried in Afghanistan if she should die in the country she had grown to love since arriving 17 months ago.

Those who knew Goislard say her dedication to caring for the people of Afghanistan was extraordinary.

Following her death, the UN refugee agency suspended its activities in much of southern and eastern Afghanistan, withdrew its workers from the affected provinces, and temporarily suspended all road missions throughout the country. Thirty expatriate UNHCR workers have been temporarily pulled back to Kabul or Islamabad.

UNHCR also temporarily suspended operations at its reception centres for returning refugees, effectively halting assistance to Afghans coming back from neighbouring Pakistan. With winter approaching and the fasting period of Ramadan in full swing, the number of returning refugees had already markedly declined.

More than 2.5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance since 2002. UNHCR has 782 staff members working in Afghanistan, including 87 expatriate workers.

A memorial service for Goislard will take place in Kabul on Sunday. UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane, is travelling from Geneva to attend the event hosted by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.