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UN: Pakistan Braces For Impact As Tougher Sanctions Hit Taliban

New UN sanctions have now taken effect that punish Afghanistan's ruling Taliban for allegedly supporting terrorism. The Taliban has shown no signs it will comply with UN Security Council demands and Pakistan -- Afghanistan's neighbor and the Taliban's biggest supporter, is expressing concern that an already severe humanitarian situation facing Afghans will worsen. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 22 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Taliban rulers face a total ban on military aid and sharply restricted international travel now that new Security Council sanctions have come into force.

The sanctions, approved last month, were proposed by the United States and Russia to end what they see as Taliban support for terrorism. Washington and Moscow have said there is evidence of terrorist training camps in Taliban-controlled areas.

The United States also wants Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national, turned over for extradition to face charges that he planned the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Taliban officials have repeatedly denied charges of supporting terrorism. And they say bin Laden is a guest in their country and they will not turn him over.

Some international humanitarian agencies have expressed concern that Afghanistan's people -- devastated by decades of war and a recent drought -- will suffer most from the new measures.

The council imposed initial sanctions against the Taliban late in 1999 for similar reasons with the main action being the restriction of flights by Ariana Afghan Airlines. A study by the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan last year said Afghan citizens have suffered indirectly from the impact of the earlier sanctions and many have directed their resentment at the United Nations.

Concerns of a backlash against UN workers in Afghanistan caused the organization to take extra security measures ahead of the new sanctions. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Friday (19 January) there have been no major incidents since the sanctions were approved.

"We removed some of our non-essential personnel but once the sanctions were voted and we noticed no negative reaction towards the international presence in the country, we gradually restored our presence there and we remained vigilant, but we haven't seen any negative impact on our work, thus far."

Eckhard said the sanctions will not affect humanitarian activities where the United Nations operates. But he noted that Taliban officials will no longer be permitted to travel on UN planes flying back and forth to Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of three countries to recognize the Taliban government and is the biggest critic of the new sanctions. It is also believed to be the main supplier of arms and other military aid to Taliban forces fighting a civil war in the north of Afghanistan. But Pakistani officials say they will fulfill their obligations to enforce the new Security Council sanctions.

Pakistan's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Alamgir Babar, told our correspondent the sanctions will aggravate an already bad humanitarian situation. He said Pakistan would be looking for international assistance to help cope with a refugee flow that has surged by tens of thousands in recent weeks. Pakistan is already home to more than one million Afghan refugees.

"We had a large influx, probably the largest in quite some time now, almost 100,000 Afghan refugees have come across to Pakistan."

Babar said the sanction would also harm new efforts at opening a peace dialogue between Taliban officials and officials of the United Front, who control about five percent of the country in the north. UN special envoy Francesc Vendrell had announced a new round of talks shortly before the sanctions were approved.

In a news conference last month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern about the affect of the sanctions on peace talks. Babar told our correspondent that Russia and the United States were taking the wrong approach to dealing with the Taliban leaders.

"This will lead to the further isolation of the Taliban. In our view it is better to engage all Afghan parties so that we can promote a peace process there. Secondly, it leaves the one side now with the military option because they can receive and are receiving military supplies."

The sanctions do not target the United Front, council members say, because they are not engaged in terroristic activities. The efforts of UN peace envoy Vendrell in the past year have stressed the importance of the "Six-plus-Two" countries, comprising Afghanistan's neighbors as well as the United States and Russia.

Prior to the approval of the new sanctions, UN officials had expressed some optimism that the "Six-plus-Two" framework was helping to advance the peace process and combat problems like drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's deputy ambassador, Babar, said his country remained committed to bring peace to Afghanistan.

"Within the 'Six plus Two' we will continue with our efforts and work with other members of the six plus two to try and sustain the peace process. How successful we will be only time will tell."

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, convened a two-day meeting on Friday (19 January) in Italy aimed at trying to boost the peace effort. The meeting in Rome includes former Afghan cabinet ministers and religious and tribal leaders. The participants said they were in contact with both the Taliban and members of the opposition alliance.