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Pakistan orders foreigners working for Save the Children to leave

By Reza Sayah, CNN
September 6, 2012 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Pakistani authorities have previously linked Save the Children to the CIA
  • The government has now ordered six foreigners working for the group to leave
  • The aid group denies the accusations and says the order hasn't been explained
  • A 2011 report alleges that Save the Children helped in the hunt for bin Laden

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani authorities have ordered six foreigners working for the aid group Save the Children to leave the country, officials said Thursday, suggesting the aid workers had been helping a foreign spy agency operating on Pakistani soil.

An official from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry and a Pakistani security official confirmed the order and said it was linked to suspicions the foreigners had been working with the spy agency. They declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

A spokesman for the Save the Children, Ghulam Qadri, denied the accusations against the organization, which operates in dozens of countries. He said officials from the Interior Ministry hadn't explained why the foreign workers had to leave.

The Pakistani authorities have previously alleged that Save the Children was linked to the CIA's search in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden, accusations the organization has long denied. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan in May 2011.

"Save the Children has never been involved in any activity beyond our mandate," Qadri said. "We have always cooperated with investigators and provided them with all the information they have asked for."

In a May 2011 report, Pakistani investigators alleged that Save the Children's country director in Pakistan at the time had introduced doctor Shakil Afridi to the CIA in 2008.

Pakistani authorities accused Afridi of working with the CIA to set up a fake vaccination campaign to try verify bin Laden's whereabouts.

Save the Children denies being involved with the CIA or the search for bin Laden.

Afridi "has never worked for Save the Children," Qadri said. "This has been made clear."

Afridi is now serving a 33-year prison sentence related to separate charges of providing medical care for Pakistani militant groups.

Qadri said the authorities had initially given Save the Children's six foreign employees two weeks to leave the country, but the group is negotiating for more time. He said some of the employees had already left Pakistan.

Save the Children says the group remains fully operational with more than 2,000 Pakistanis working in 70 districts throughout the country.

"We have a firm resolve that we will put the needs of the children first," Qadri said. "We'll continue to work with the same spirit and zeal for the rights of the children in this country."

Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report.

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