UN Urges Afghan Militants to End Campaign Against Schools

The top U.N. official in Afghanistan has urged militants opposing the country's government to end their violent campaign against local schools and teachers.

The attacks have devastated schools throughout Afghanistan. Dozens have been burned and hundreds more temporarily closed, following repeated threats from suspected Taleban insurgents.

Speaking to reporters in the Afghan capital, the United Nations' new chief of mission Tom Koenigs urged the militants to change course.

"I cannot understand why anyone would target schools and teachers," he said. "I can only appeal to those who apparently disagree with the development Afghanistan takes, 'Leave Afghanistan's children alone.'"

Officials say that despite stepped up security, schools and educators throughout the war-torn country remain vulnerable.

In January, Taleban insurgents beheaded a teacher in central Afghanistan. A month earlier, gunmen dragged a teacher from his school in Kandahar, killing him as his students watched from a classroom window.

Authorities say Islamic militants are in particular targeting schools where girls are educated. While in power, the Taleban claimed schooling for women was un-Islamic and kept thousands of girls from attending classes.

Koenigs, who arrived last week, says conditions for women in Afghanistan have steadily improved since the Taleban were ousted in 2001.

The United Nations has vowed to help reopen damaged schools as soon as possible, but has not provided a specific timetable.

The German diplomat takes office just weeks after a donor's summit in London pledged more than $10 billion for Afghanistan's development.

Thursday Koenigs said poor security remains a central obstacle to the country's growth.

"Attracting investment from abroad, bringing trade to the levels it has been, developing agriculture, all these decisive elements depend on security," he said.

The coming months are expected to see a rise in insurgent activity, as the militants generally become more active in the spring, after the snow melts and travel becomes easier.