Afghanistan's Taliban guarantee safety of UN staff
KABUL, Feb 28 (AFP) - Leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban militia Sunday assured full safety and security for United Nations staff if they returned to Kabul, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said after talks with the hardline Islamic militia.
"Today, they gave us very strong assurances" that the safety of UN staff will be "fully guaranteed," he told reporters before leaving for Islamabad after the one-day visit.
The UN withdrew its international staff after an Italian officer, Colonel Carmine Calo, was shot dead in Kabul hours after the August 20 US cruise missile attacks on alleged Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden's suspected base in Afghanistan.
Algerian diplomat Brahimi held talks with the chairman of the militia's ruling council, Mohammad Rabbani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Hassan and other officials.
"We discussed the work of the UN and the necessity of close cooperation to solve the problems of the past," the UN envoy added.
Brahimi said he told Rabbani, considered number two in the Taliban heirarchy, that "the security of the UN staff should be respected."
The most important thing was "to avoid the repetition" of the events which led to the exodus of UN staff, he added.
Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Mawlawi Abdurrahman Zahed said the ruling militia had assigned special security units for the UN in different regions of the country.
"We have assured that the security of their residences, vehicles -- international and national staff -- is fully guaranteed and that they could safely stay in Afghanistan," Zahed said.
Brahimi said he was hopeful the UN expatriates would return to Kabul, but a date would be set later on.
The UN envoy also discussed bin Laden with Taliban leaders, he said.
"It was mentioned. I know that they (Taliban) know that the international community is worried," he added.
Bin Laden, who had been living as "guest" of the Taliban, has been missing from his Afghan bases for the past three weeks, according to the militia, after it imposed restrictions on him amid mounting international pressure.
The multi-millionaire Saudi dissident is accused by the US of masterminding last year's bombings of two US embassies in East Africa which killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans.
Brahimi said he had informed the Taliban, which controls about 80 percent of the country, of a plan to assign UN human rights monitors in different areas of Afghanistan. He gave no details.
The hardline militia has banned jobs and education for Afghan women and also handed down harsh punishments including beheading for murder and amputation of hands for theft.
Brahimi's visit to Kabul was aimed at promoting UN peace efforts in the country, where the Taliban remains in conflict with opposing factions.
The discussions also focussed on the possibility of holding a conference of Afghan neighbours plus the United States and Russia to end the Afghan conflict.
The so called Six Plus Two Group, made up of Pakistan, Iran, China Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, as well as Russia and the United States, is to meet in Tashkent but so far no date has been fixed.
Brahimi, who last visited Afghanistan in October, said he planned to travel to Iran, Moscow and the Central Asian republics later this week as part of his peace endeavours.
The Taliban are fighting forces of ex-defence minister Ahmad Shah Masood, who controls several provinces in the north of the country.
Copyright (c) 1999 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/28/1999 17:12:49
=A9AFP 1999: The information provided in this product is for personal use only. None of it may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express permission of Agence France-Presse
©AFP: The information provided in this product is for personal use only. None of it may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express permission of Agence France-Presse.