Pinoy UN worker killed in Pakistan hotel bomb blast

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Militants attacked a hotel popular with VIPs and foreigners in the Pakistani city of Peshawar with guns and a truck bomb on Tuesday, killing at least eleven people including a Filipino U.N. worker, authorities said.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Manila identified the Filipino killed in the blast as Perseveranda So, UNICEF's chief of education in Pakistan.

"Eleven people have been killed," provincial police chief Malik Naveed told AFP. "The toll is likely to rise."

The AFP reported that 46 were injured in the blast.

Militants had shot their way through a security post at the gate of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar and a suspected suicide bomber set off the truck bomb in front of the lobby, security officials said.

The hotel's windows were shattered and much of the front of the building was destroyed. Police said the bomb contained 500 kg (1,100 lb) of explosives, similar size to a suicide truck bomb at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last year that killed 55 people.

"I was in the Chinese restaurant when we heard firing and then a blast. It was totally dark and people started shouting and running," hotel waiter Ali Khan told Reuters.

Pinoy identified

In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said So was part of several UN humanitarian workers in Pakistan who were housed at the Pearl Continental hotel.

“UNICEF is greatly saddened by the death of a much-loved colleague, Perseveranda So, as a result of the bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar today," Veneman said.

“Persy, as she was known to her colleagues, had worked for UNICEF since 1994."

UNICEF said So was a “dedicated and highly committed staff member, who worked with grace and determination as Chief of Education in Pakistan, earning the respect and admiration of all those with whom she came into contact."

“She was in Peshawar, a dangerous and difficult environment, helping implement programmes to assist girls in gaining access to the education they so desperately need," Veneman said.

“She will be greatly missed by her colleagues at UNICEF. Our hearts go out to her family and friends, in her home country of the Philippines and around the world, who share our loss," she added.

“At the time of the bombing, the hotel was housing many humanitarian workers there to provide life-saving assistance to Pakistan’s most vulnerable people. This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable,” Veneman said.

Vanessa Tobin, country representative in the Philippines, added: “Persy made a huge contribution to improving education for millions of children in the Philippines. As UNICEF’s chief of education, she was instrumental in introducing the Child Friendly School System to the country, and she successfully advocated for the passage of a law on early child education. She was driven by a belief that education was the key to reducing poverty in the Philippines. She was a passionate worker who dedicated her life to the promotion of a child’s right to education."

UN condemns attack

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack.

"Once again, a dedicated staff member of the United Nations is among the victims of a heinous terrorist attack which no cause can justify," Ban's press office said in a statement.

About 70 people were wounded, among them a German woman working for the U.N. children's fund, a British man and a Nigerian man, Anis said.

About a dozen U.N. staff were staying at the hotel.

The United Nations is heavily involved in providing relief for more than 2.5 million people displaced by the fighting in Swat and elsewhere in the northwest.

There was no claim of responsibility for the latest attack, but the Taliban have warned of retaliatory action over the Swat offensive.

Washington heartened

The United States, which needs sustained Pakistani action to help defeat al Qaeda and cut off militant support for the Afghan Taliban, has been heartened by the resolve the government and military are showing in Swat.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said on Monday Pakistan's army was gaining in the offensive because public support for the operation was solidifying. [ID:nN08349964]

"For the first time, the Pakistan army operations in that part of the world have support of the government and the public. This is really different from the past, when the army went up and there was little backing," Blair told intelligence officials in Washington.

Earlier on Tuesday, the army came to the help of a pro-government militia fighting the Taliban in a northwestern district after outrage over a suspected Taliban bomb attack at a mosque last week that killed about 40 people. [ID:nSP468963]

The villagers' action is the latest in a series of examples of people turning on the Taliban in recent weeks, underscoring the shift in public opinion away from the Islamists.

The military says troops have cleared most of Swat, but soldiers are encountering pockets of resistance. The army said on Tuesday that 14 militants and one soldier had been killed in the previous 24 hours.

In all, the army says more than 1,300 militants and 105 soldiers have been killed. There has been no independent confirmation of the figures.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke also said on Monday that Pakistani public opinion was increasingly on the government's side, and he renewed calls for other Western countries to provide more aid for the displaced.


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