KABUL – The Taliban have said they will no longer protect Red Cross workers in Afghanistan, after it alleged the aid group was failing its prisoners held in a Kabul jail.
The insurgent movement said it would not guarantee the lives and property of the international humanitarian charity and criticised its conduct.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations have already been significantly scaled back in the country after seven staff were killed last year.
More than 1,000 Red Cross staff work in the country and the organisation says it has supported those caught in the country’s long-running conflicts for 30 years.
The group has run medical centres and rehabilitation centres for the wounded for 30 years and used its reputation for impartiality to gain access to all sides. It makes prison visits to ensure detainees are being treated well and repatriates bodies to both sides after clashes. In 2010 it was disclosed the group had also given first aid training to Taliban fighters.
But a statement from the Taliban blamed the organisation for failing to ensure decent conditions for insurgent prisoners in the capital’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison.
It said prisoners were held in dire circumstances, sometimes without medical treatment, and hundreds had gone on hunger strike to demand better conditions.
The statement said: “The International Red Cross, however, has not made any arrangements to treat the prisoners or demand the prison officials provide proper medical care for the patients.
“Therefore (Taliban) announces the withdrawal of the security commitment that it had given to the International Red Cross for their activities in Afghanistan.”
It said that it would no longer “guarantee the protection of their lives and property until they come to an agreement with (The Taliban) to correct their actions.
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Afghanistan said it was concerned by the statement.
The Taliban threat came amid growing concern at the number of attacks on health workers in the country.
Doctors, nurses and hospitals are under increasing attack in Afghanistan, health groups have warned, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for medical workers.
Aid agencies tracking shootings, bombings and kidnappings in the country’s health sector say the situation is worsening, with a trend towards more direct attacks on staff and buildings.
Afghanistan sees the third highest number of attacks on health workers in the world, according to one report.
As fighting makes it more difficult for doctors and nurses to work, and clinics close, people are left without medical treatment.
Recent high profile attacks included a suicide bombing assault late last month on a midwives’ training college in the eastern city of Jalalabad killing two guards and a driver. In January, the UK charity Save the Children temporarily shut operations in Afghanistan after an Islamic State suicide squad attacked its offices in the same city.
But there have also been dozens of unreported incidents of kidnapping, intimidation and assaults.