Two medical staff from the independent aid agency, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), were killed during fighting in Swat district, northwestern Pakistan on Sunday. Riaz Ahmad (24) and Nasar Ali (27) had left Mingora, the main town in Swat valley, in two ambulances to collect people injured during fighting in nearby Charbagh and bring them to the hospital for treatment. At around 3 p.m. local time, their ambulances, clearly identified as medical vehicles, came under fire inside Charbagh and both men were killed. A third worker for MSF was injured in the leg. The drivers escaped without injury. “We are profoundly shocked and saddened by the death of our colleagues,” said Fasil Tezera, head of mission in Pakistan for MSF. “In any conflict situation, including Swat, it is absolutely imperative that all parties resolutely respect humanitarian medical assistance, medical personnel and medical facilities.” The deaths of the two medical workers occurred on a day of heavy fighting in Swat that claimed the lives of dozens of civilians. “The day our colleagues Nasar and Riaz were killed was their day off,” said Tezera, “but they had come to work anyway because they’d heard there were large numbers of people wounded in fighting who needed urgent medical assistance. They volunteered because of their strong desire to help others. They will be greatly missed — their dedication to bringing medical aid to people who urgently required it, under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, was an inspiration to many inside MSF and beyond. We share the deep sorrow of their families and friends and right now our priority is to support them as much as we can.” MSF has completely suspended its medical activities in Swat, including all life-saving operations. Intense fighting continues to rage in Swat today, trapping the entire civilian population. The extreme violence has displaced approximately 25,000 people in the area. MSF is unable to provide any assistance. MSF has been working in Pakistan since 1988 and in recent years its medical teams focused particularly on helping victims of the increasingly violent armed conflict in regions along the northwestern border of the country. In Swat, MSF ran three ambulances and in the last quarter of 2008 MSF staff transported more than 350 people for emergency treatment to hospitals in the region. During the same period, emergency rooms supported by MSF assisted more than 400 war-wounded. The MSF medical services to the injured or sick in Swat always operate under strict guidelines of neutrality and impartiality. MSF is an international medical organization that provides life-saving assistance in emergencies, independently of all governments. In Pakistan, to guarantee complete independence, 100 per cent of funding for MSF’s work comes from private income. Thus, MSF does no accept any institutional funding, or funding by any government, for its work in Pakistan. As an independent organization, MSF offers assistance to people based solely on need.
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