South Asia News
Afghan media centre: US cuts support following criticism
By Subel Bhandari Dec 28, 2011, 14:32 GMT
Kabul - The US embassy in Kabul this week said it would cut off aid and called back staff working at an Afghan government media centre after a press conference held there that criticized foreign troops over civilian casualties, centre officials said Wednesday.
Ezatullah Safi, deputy director of the Afghan Government Media and Information Center, said it was told after the press conference that the embassy would review its aid to the centre.
An Afghan fact-finding team appointed by President Hamid Karzai on Saturday blamed NATO-led troops for what it said was the unnecessary killing of dozens of civilians. The press conference the team held at the centre criticized foreign forces as 'brutal.'
But US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall denied that the US moves were linked to the criticism.
'This decision to begin the transition was under consideration and happened to coincide with the press conference,' Sundwall said.
The embassy had 'temporarily removed US embassy personnel' from the centre and was 'reviewing and reassessing' its support for it, he added.
The embassy had spent about 9 million dollars on the centre since its establishment in 2007, he said.
'We want to ensure that US support and resources are used efficiently and effectively as the transition takes place,' an embassy statement added.
Besides holding press conferences, the centre monitors media for the government and trains Afghan officials in media-related activities.
Gary Kolb, an official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said it had temporarily called back 'less then 10 staff' from the centre but the plan was to make the centre self-sufficient.
'It was not a response to the press conference because there has been other instances where we have been criticized,' Kolb said.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign troops, including US soldiers, remain highly sensitive issues and a matter of tension between the Afghan president and his Western allies.
Another media centre official said it had received a phone call Monday from the embassy criticizing its decision to let the Afghan fact-finding team hold the press conference at the centre.
'They told us that they were going to cut off the funding and were calling back all foreign staff,' the official said on condition of anonymity.
But an official at the US embassy, also speaking on condition of anonymity, denied any such phone call had been made. He acknowledged several calls taking place on Sunday 'but no point on ending of the funding was discussed,' he said.
Deputy director Safi said the centre would not regret it if the embassy cut funding.
'Definitely, it will affect our work, but we will not close the centre,' he said.
The embassy had committed 3 million dollars this year for the centre, Safi said, adding that he could not provide details on how much was received or spent.
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