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Afghanistan: Envoy Says UN 'Not Seeking' Nation-Building Role

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, says the United Nations is "not seeking" a role in peacekeeping or nation-building in Afghanistan. Brahimi says the UN will continue its long-standing work of providing humanitarian assistance and promoting efforts to end the country's civil war.

United Nations, 18 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Officials at the United Nations in New York are cautious in assessing what role the UN should play in Afghanistan once the U.S.-led military operation there ceases.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the secretary general's special envoy to Afghanistan, told reporters yesterday that the UN is not seeking a "transition or peacekeeping" role in Afghanistan.

The envoy said the world community should not rush to establish a post-Taliban government but instead let Afghans decide for themselves the kind of government they want.

Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, described Afghans as a "proud people" who do "not like to see foreigners" in Afghanistan -- "especially in military uniforms."

He said the UN will continue to focus on long-standing activities such as providing humanitarian help and fostering attempts to end the Afghan civil war: "We are extremely aware of the difficulties that lay ahead. We will work in the first place with the Afghans, all the Afghans, and with all those who have an interest in Afghanistan -- those who have concerns because of the situation in Afghanistan, and those who have influence over the situation in Afghanistan."

It's not clear what role the UN would play if and when the U.S.-led air strikes succeed in dislodging the ruling Taliban. U.S. officials have said they could see a possible UN peacekeeping or even state-building role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Brahimi acknowledged that frequent stand-offs between the UN's relief missions in Afghanistan and the Taliban militia in the past have been a major obstacle to any kind of humanitarian effort.

But he says that now, with the days of the Taliban seemingly numbered, the UN hopes conditions for its activities will improve: "We hope that the conditions that were not there before and prevented us from helping the Afghans effectively, will change now and allow us to do so this time."

To illustrate the difficulty of providing adequate amounts of food, Brahimi says starving Afghans need 2,000 tons of food a day. He says the UN can deliver a little over half that amount. He says delivering food [wheat] supplies is the number-one priority for UN relief efforts in Afghanistan.

Kenzo Oshima, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, will travel to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on 22-27 October to discuss ways to improve delivery of food and assistance to Afghanistan. Brahimi tells RFE/RL that Oshima's trip will focus only on humanitarian assistance: "He [Oshima] is going to talk about refugees, food, and other humanitarian needs going into Afghanistan. He's going to talk about the humanitarian side. But we are looking forward to their cooperation with us to help the Afghans in their hour of need."

Meanwhile, Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says the Taliban has taken over World Food Program warehouses in Kabul and Kandahar. The WFP now plans to bypass the warehouses and to continue supplying food directly to the needy population.

Eckhard also voiced concern over the increasing flow of Afghan refugees to neighboring countries, particularly to Pakistan: "The number of refugees arriving in Baluchistan, Pakistan, has climbed sharply, with a total of 8,000 believed to have crossed the [Chaman] border area over the past four days. Around 2,000 crossed yesterday. Newly arrived refugees in Quetta said there are many more vehicles traveling from Kandahar towards the border. Refugees are also arriving from much further afield than Kandahar, according to [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. Reports from the border indicate that the physical condition of new arrivals is visibly deteriorating."

Officials in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are all bracing for what they say could be a flood of refugees if the military campaign continues.