The UN Security Council has issued a sweeping condemnation of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement and called on it to seek a political solution to the civil war, turn over accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, and take steps to improve the human rights of women and girls. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports on Friday's open Security Council session.
United Nations, 8 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has accused Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement of being chiefly responsible for the country's deteriorating condition.
The council issued a statement on Friday calling on the Taliban to take steps to end the country's civil war, put an end to human rights violations and cease providing sanctuary for terrorists. The statement said the council was ready to seek further measures to force the Taliban to comply with its resolutions on these issues.
The statement followed an open session that reviewed the country's dire human rights and humanitarian situation. UN officials and council members spoke out in particular against the Taliban's treatment of women and girls. They also repeatedly called on Taliban leaders to turn over accused terrorist Osama bin Laden for extradition.
But all acknowledged that there would be little progress on reforms in the country until the civil war is ended.
The Taliban's representative in New York, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Taliban officials have previously responded to criticism by saying that opposition forces, backed by neighboring countries, share the blame for the country's predicament.
The United Nations does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate representative of Afghanistan but is involved in steady dialogue with its leaders to try to serve the country's humanitarian needs and to promote peace talks.
A UN official opened Friday's session with a warning that the Taliban and the coalition of opposition forces were both preparing for major offensives.
The UN's chief political affairs officer for the Asia region, John Renninger, said there are growing reports of the recruitment of fighters and of military equipment being supplied to the warring sides from outside the country.
"The intensity and frequency of clashes between the two sides is steadily on the rise. There is every indication that preparations for an organized, large-scale offensive are now well under way on both sides."
Renninger said the UN Special Mission in Afghanistan believes the Taliban are determined to pursue a military solution. He said it wants to defeat the forces who control about 10 percent of the country in the north. Renninger said the Taliban and the United Front have started tactical moves to try to capture key territory in the northern provinces of Samangan and Baghlan.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said the endless fighting in Afghanistan, which now spans two decades, drains the country of resources it desperately needs to rebuild.
"Afghanistan is obviously one of the great horror stories of the world today. It is a vexing and tragic mosaic of suffering. And its seemingly endless civil war exacerbates and already dire humanitarian situation."
Holbrooke was one of many speakers who stressed the need for the international community to promote human rights for women and girls in the country. Efforts by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan have been credited with improving some conditions for women in the past year.
As it gained control of most of the country in recent years, the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban issued a series of edicts that effectively banned women from public activities. Restrictions on education for girls and access to medical care were among the main areas of concern for international rights monitors.
The UN political affairs official, Renninger, told the council that the Taliban has slowly shifted some of its policies to allow women more access to health services, education and employment. He said the regime has also eased restrictions on the movement of the female staff of UN agencies. But he said that the overall situation for women remains unacceptable.
The UN's special adviser on gender issues and the advancement of women, Angela King, also told the council of some positive changes for women, especially in rural areas. She urged the council to continue to pressure the Taliban to end its conflict and respect human rights.
"I think that progress can be made but at the heart of it is a political settlement firmly grounded in human rights and gender."
Friday's session was chaired by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, whose country holds the presidency of the council. He told reporters after the session that it was important to highlight that new fighting now appears imminent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban have failed to respond to previous council resolutions. Axworthy said the council should "consider measures to cut off the supply of weapons to belligerents." He did not give details.
The council froze Taliban assets in November and imposed an air embargo on the Taliban-run airline to force the militia to deliver bin Laden for trial in terrorist bombings in east Africa in August 1998. The Taliban have refused, saying he is their guest.