UN, foreign missions suspend activities in Peshawar

The UN suspended all its activities, including humanitarian aid for people displaced by the military operations against the Taliban in Swat and nearby areas, till Monday, media reports said. The world body has asked all employees to stay away from offices till Monday.

Besides UN agencies, the US consulate, other diplomatic missions and offices of international bodies in Peshawar suspended their activities and directed their staff to restrict their movements.

A meeting of top UN officials will be held on Monday to review the situation and decide on the resumption of relief work. The UN also evacuated its foreign staff members to Islamabad and local employees were asked to stay home till further orders, the reports said.

The move is expected to affect relief programmes as UN agencies are playing a key role in providing shelter, water, sanitation, food and healthcare to tens of thousands of displaced people living in camps in different parts of the North West Frontier Province.

Two foreigners and three Pakistani working for UN agencies were among those killed in Tuesday's suicide attack on the hotel. Several UN staff members, including four foreigners, were injured in the attack, some of them seriously.

Dozens of people working for the World Food Programme, UNFPA and UNHCR were staying at the five-star hotel.

Concerned by the developments, the NWFP has been persuading senior UN officials to rescind their decision to suspend relief work at the earliest. Search operations being conducted by army personnel at the Pearl Continental had been concluded, the hotel's management said today.

The army was called in yesterday to search for bodies and clear the rubble as the local administration did not have heavy equipment needed for the operations.

A team of experts and engineers would visit the hotel to assess losses and draw up a plan for its reconstruction, the management said. Pakistani tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani, who owns the hotel, has pledged to rebuild it within two months.

A section of the hotel at the rear collapsed after a suicide bomber detonated 500 kg of explosives hidden in a truck that was driven into the hotel's parking lot.

Investigators are focussing on the possibility that members of the hotel staff may have been involved in the attack. Senior NWFP Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour had hinted at this while speaking to reporters yesterday. A committee headed by Peshawar police chief Sifwat Ghayur is probing the attack.

Footage captured by close circuit TV cameras minutes before the blast triggered speculation as to why a concrete barricade at the hotel's entrance was lowered for the two vehicles used by the attackers when they forced their entry into the hotel after opening fire on guards.

The footage showed a man on a bicycle being stopped and checked. However, the white car and mini truck used by the terrorists were not stopped and the barricade was lowered for them.

There were also reports that the white car was seen parked outside the NWFP assembly minutes before the attack. Two men were seen sitting inside it while another, in uniform, was standing outside. It is also not known whether all the terrorists were killed in the attack or some managed to escape.

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