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Charity's foreign staff to leave Pakistan
Order follows intelligence report alleging link between Save the Children and vaccination drive used in bin Laden hunt.
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2012 02:23
DNA collected through the vaccination programme helped the CIA to locate bin Laden in Abbottabad

Pakistan has ordered all Save the Children's foreign staff to leave the country within four weeks in the wake of
accusations linking the aid agency to a fake vaccination programme used in the hunt for al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Save the Children said on Thursday it had received no explanation for the order, under which the charity's six expatriate staff have been told to leave within four weeks.

A Pakistan intelligence report has linked the aid agency to Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who the CIA allegedly used to carry out a fake vaccination programme as they searched for bin Laden.

"Earlier this week we got a call from special branch instructing us to send back all expatriate staff," Ghulam Qadir, Save the Children spokesman, told AFP news agency.

"There were no reasons given. We are working with the government to comply with the instructions."

He said the agency would continue to operate in Pakistan where it has 2,000 staff, serving more than seven million children. And he strongly denied allegations that Afridi was introduced to the CIA through Save the Children.

"On Shakeel Afridi, our stand is very clear that there is absolutely no truth in it. There is no concrete proof to these allegations," Qadir said.

No government official was immediately available to comment.

Bin Laden's presence

Afridi allegedly worked for the CIA collecting DNA in a bid to verify bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, where US navy SEALS killed him in a raid on his compound in May 2011.

Bin Laden was living in the garrison town north of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, at the time of his killing.

Pakistan reacted with fury to the raid, which it branded a violation of sovereignty.

An official report prepared jointly by Pakistan civil and military intelligence blamed a former Save the children director for introducing Afridi to the Americans.

The report, obtained by AFP, said Afridi went to Peshawar in November 2008 to participate in a workshop organised by Save The Children, where he met the charity's country director, who later invited him to come to Islamabad.

Afridi met him at a book stall in Islamabad and was introduced to a western woman, the report said. Afridi and the woman met regularly afterwards in various locations in Islamabad.

In May Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in jail for treason after being convicted over alleged ties to Lashkar-e-Islam, not for working for the CIA, for which the court said it did not have jurisdiction.

The US was enraged by Afridi's sentencing and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by a symbolic $33m.

'Misguided over-reaction'

Richard Hoagland, the US deputy ambassador to Pakistan, reacted to the news of the expulsion by saying Save the Children had nothing to do with the discovery of bin Laden.

"Save the Children were in no way involved with Abbottabad - I repeat, no way. A very sad and misguided over-reaction," he wrote on Twitter.

The expulsion of Save the Children's foreign staff was first reported by the British newspaper The Guardian.

Save the Children is an international aid group with operations in more than 50 countries around the world that aims to improve the lives of children.

The group has been working in Pakistan since 1979, according to its website.

Of late it has been helping some of the roughly 250,000 people who have fled fighting in Pakistan's Khyber agency, a tribal area that borders Afghanistan.

Save the Children has about 2,000 Pakistani employees across the country, who will continue to work despite the expulsion.

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