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Central Asia: Regional States Cooperating In Humanitarian Mission

  • Nikola Krastev

United Nations, 23 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations says Central Asian states are cooperating in efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to hungry and displaced people in Afghanistan.

Carolyn McAskie is the United Nations' deputy emergency relief coordinator. She says that the UN's deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Kenzo Oshima, is getting positive responses from the governments of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Oshima is visiting Afghanistan's three northern neighbors in a stepped-up effort to bring desperately needed aid into the country before winter arrives.

McAskie tells RFE/RL that Oshima is carrying letters from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the leaders of those countries and is seeking high-level cooperation: "[Oshima's] visit to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan is an extension of that trip [to Iran and Pakistan]. He's there now to talk to the governments to assure them that the international response -- the humanitarian response to the crisis -- includes assistance to them in dealing with overflow of the crisis to their countries and to work out with them [ways] for the UN to use their airspace for access to Afghans who are suffering through the crisis."

McAskie says the UN's World Food Program is already passing food supplies through Turkmenistan but that the UN wants to increase its ability to do that.

McAskie says Oshima is scheduled today to begin three days of talks in Uzbekistan. She says Uzbekistan's closure of its border with Afghanistan is not a concern at this point for the UN's relief efforts.

Concerning the refugee situation, McAskie says that since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., about 40,000 Afghans have crossed borders into neighboring countries. She says there are reports that another 180,000 may be internally displaced, in addition to the 1.1 million internally displaced people already known to exist in Afghanistan.

So far, McAskie says, humanitarian agencies are getting about 50 percent of their deliveries into Afghanistan. She says one of the most significant problems was the ruling Taliban's looting of humanitarian assets, including food and vehicles. She says a recent edict issued by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar helped to clear up the issue.

"There were two very large food stocks taken over in Kabul and Kandahar, but we got most of it back. And the Kabul site of 5,000-plus tons was given back. Mullah [Mohammed] Omar has issued an edict saying that Taliban authorities on all sites must not raid the UN and the international offices, and instructing all local authorities to assure speedy recovery and return of all looted assets."

UN spokesman Hasan Ferdous said the Taliban gave up its occupation of a UN coordinators' compound in Mazar-i-Sharif on 20 October, moments after hearing Omar's ruling.

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