Pakistan expels Save the Children's foreign staff

ISLAMABAD Thu Sep 6, 2012 2:50pm IST

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan is expelling foreign staff of the Save the Children aid group, an agency official said on Thursday, a decision apparently linked to government suspicion the charity helped U.S. spies hunting Osama bin Laden.

The Interior Ministry had told the aid group that its six foreign employees had to be out of Pakistan within two weeks, said Ghulam Qadri, the group's director for programme planning and communications.

The ministry gave no reason for the decision, he said. Interior Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Save the Children and other aid groups have come under government suspicion because of media reports they had come into contact with a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down bin Laden.

"The allegations that have appeared in the media that Afridi worked with Save The Children and that Afridi was introduced to CIA by our staff, there is no truth to these allegations and no concrete evidence to support them," said Qadri.

Bin Laden was killed in May last year when U.S. special forces raided his hideout in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad. Pakistan, while a U.S. security ally, objected to the secret U.S. raid as a violation of its sovereignty.

Afridi was arrested soon after bin Laden was killed.

Afridi ran a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad and used cheek swabs to try to gather DNA from bin Laden's children, who were staying with him in his hideout, one former Pakistani security official familiar with the case said this year.

It was unclear whether the CIA used the swabs to determine if the children were those of the al Qaeda chief.

After his arrest, Afridi was vilified by many Pakistanis for what they saw as his treason for helping the United States.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail this year.

Save the Children has been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years, employing more than 2,000 Pakistani staff.

(Reporting by Aisha Chowdhry; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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