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UN: Officials See Need For Quick Action On Afghan Authority

The United Nations has proposed that a meeting of major Afghan groups starting on 26 November move toward the swift establishment of an interim administration to run the country when the current fighting ends. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has revised his outline for an Afghan political settlement by recommending that leading Afghans select a small provisional authority sooner rather than later now that Taliban rule has quickly eroded.

United Nations, 21 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations officials are urging leading Afghans to select a small transitional government when they meet next week in Germany.

The UN's top official on Afghan affairs, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters yesterday that he has revised his plan for an Afghan political settlement due to events in Afghanistan, where Taliban rule continues to erode: "Because of the fast-developing situation on the ground, what we are already suggesting -- and indeed what participants also are, I think, telling us -- is that, 'Let's try and go straight to the small authority that is going to Kabul and be the provisional authority.'"

Brahimi's five-point plan for Afghanistan, recently endorsed by the UN Security Council, called for Afghan groups to first set up a large provisional council representing the country's major ethnic and regional groups.

But Brahimi says such a council should now be convened after an interim government is in place. He is still recommending that the council later hold a Loya Jirga, or council of elders, to begin the process of writing a constitution and choosing a more permanent government. The meeting of major Afghan groups is planned to start on 26 November in or near Berlin. It is open-ended but is expected to last one week. The gathering is also expected to cover security conditions throughout Afghanistan.

The meeting comes as the Northern Alliance solidified its control of the capital, Kabul, and continued efforts to capture the last northern city in Taliban hands, Kondoz. Warlords from other anti-Taliban factions have already begun to take control of cities they dominated before Taliban rule.

Brahimi says he believes there is consensus among all the groups attending the meeting that a provisional government is needed to run the country prior to the holding of a Loya Jirga, which would lend legitimacy to the process: "I very, very much hope that out of this meeting -- which is not, hopefully, only symbolic -- we will take some concrete decisions and steps."

Earlier in the day yesterday, the head of the Northern Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, told the CNN network that such a meeting would only be symbolic. But Rabbani did drop demands that the meeting be held in Kabul, which his coalition controls.

In addition to the Northern Alliance, Brahimi said the meeting will include representatives from three major political "processes" seeking an Afghan political solution. They include the Rome process, built around former King Zahir Shah; the Cyprus process, involving Afghan refugees mainly living in Iran; and the Peshawar group, composed of mainly ethnic Pashtun refugees living in Pakistan. There will be no official Taliban representation.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters it would be a challenge choosing a small interim government from such a diverse group of Afghans: "It's harder to select 20 people than 200 people, but [Brahimi] felt that it might be more practical to try in Berlin to organize the smaller body first and let them then select the larger group of representatives."

The UN Security Council is continuing to back Brahimi's efforts, issuing a statement of support yesterday after he briefed the chamber. The current Security Council president, Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, said the council sees the Berlin meeting as crucial: "Members of the council welcome the convening of this meeting as an indispensable first step toward the establishment of a broad-based representative government in Afghanistan. They encouraged all parties to participate in good faith and without preconditions."

The Council and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also repeated their concern yesterday about humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. There are worries about tens of thousands of Afghans who have fled areas near Kandahar, which is under heavy bombardment by the U.S.-led coalition seeking to oust the Taliban.

UN officials are also intensifying efforts on providing food for millions of Afghans in the north and northwest of the country. The UN's deputy emergency relief coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, says relief officials are very concerned about the collapse of the country's agriculture system.

McAskie told a news conference yesterday she believes that international humanitarian assistance will be needed in Afghanistan for another 12 to 18 months, in addition to whatever development assistance is provided to the country. McAskie said a major task will be restoring the health of a vast number of Afghan children: "What you have in Afghanistan is not the starvation and the degradation that we've seen in Africa. It's more a chronic and degenerate malnutrition over time, which means that these children are extremely vulnerable to the sorts of things which healthy children can normally shrug off."

But McAskie said there have been encouraging reports from Kabul, where returning UN staff report most of the organization's facilities are intact. She said a recent decree from the Northern Alliance permitting women in Kabul to go back to work gives hope that schools may be able to reopen. Prior to Taliban rule, about 40 percent of the country's teachers were women.