The European Commission (EC) announced a further US $9 million for drought-stricken Tajikistan to fund programmes over the next 12 months providing food for thousands of people, an EC official confirmed to IRIN on Friday. "The humanitarian situation is still pretty serious in Tajikistan," spokesperson for the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), Michael Curtis in the Belgian capital, Brussels said. The bulk of the money will be spent on providing basic food for 55,000 people, including 15,000 children suffering from acute or severe malnutrition. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been supplying food aid to the country since 1993. In 2001, WFP and FAO estimated that a million people were in need of emergency food aid and recommended a further 90,500 mt of emergency food aid for a period of nine months between October 2001 and June 2002.
UZBEKISTAN: Women linked to Islamic groups rounded up
The international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that the government of Uzbekistan is extending its crackdown against "independent" Muslims to include women. International and local human rights experts estimate 7,000 independent Muslims have already been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for their religious beliefs, affiliations, and practices in the Central Asian country. "We are witnessing an increase in the number of trials involving independent Muslim women," HRW representative, Marie Struthers told IRIN from the Uzbek capital Tashkent on Thursday. "This coincides with an increase in the number of demonstrations being held by such women protesting against the detention of their husbands or family members," she explained.
PAKISTAN: President wins referendum amid allegations
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won a landslide victory for an extension of his rule for another five years from October through a referendum on Tuesday. But human rights groups and his opponents have accused the government of serious polling irregularities to ensure his victory.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced late on Wednesday that more than 50 percent of eligible voters had participated in the referendum, and of those 98 percent were in Musharraf's favour to continue in office to carry out his promised reforms. However, Musharraf's critics challenged this claim, saying the voter turnout was less than five percent, and that the authorities had stamped "yes" on the ballots.
PAKISTAN: Focus on tribal reforms
Sitting in his mosque's hujra, or guest-room, 65-year-old Maulana Nur Muhammad wields tremendous authority in his area without holding any public office. He is the imam, or prayer leader, in a mosque in Wana, one of the most remote towns in western Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The area will soon be gradually integrated with the rest of the country through a reform package - something many believe is long overdue. "This will have positive results and might end our century-long isolation," Muhammad told IRIN. "We have been portrayed as wild wolves by successive regimes, resulting in much exploitation, and deterring our development," he maintained.
AFGHANISTAN: NGO concerned over security in the south
Aid workers in southern Afghanistan have expressed concern over what they describe as deteriorating security conditions, which, they say, could place a limit on the number of agencies working in that region. "We have a number of offices in rural areas, and have had to curtail travel to them for international staff," South Asia director for the US based Mercy Corps NGO, Jim White, told IRIN from the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. There have been increased robberies and killings, mostly against local Afghans, according to White. "Its not clear who is behind this, but we are being extra careful," he said, adding that groups of people were taking advantage during the interim authority period. "We are concerned about the safety of local people too," he maintained.
AFGHANISTAN: Turkey agrees to take ISAF command
The Turkish government has formally announced its decision to assume command of Afghanistan's International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF). The UN-mandated peacekeeping force is a critical component of international efforts to assist the beleaguered country on the road to peace and reconstruction. "The government has officially agreed to take over the ISAF command," foreign ministry spokesman, Huseyin Dirioz told IRIN from the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday. "The date of the takeover is now being discussed with our partner countries," he explained. His comments follow a cabinet statement on Monday stating Turkey would assume command of the 5,000-strong force from Britain for six months. While no exact handover date was given, according to a communiqué issued afterwards, this would be established after further negotiations with the United Nations and representatives of countries making up ISAF.
AFGHANISTAN: Food aid reaches flood victims
Food aid has been distributed to half those badly affected by last week's flash floods in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis, an aid worker for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN on Tuesday. "We know that there may be some people stuck in more remote areas, but those who are visible and have lost everything in the area have been reached," the communications coordinator for ICRC, Jean Pascal Moret, said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. A total of six deaths have been confirmed following the heavy flooding in the Qaleh-ye Now area of Badghis. "Most of the bazar was washed away, and extensive damage has also been caused to land," Moret explained.
AFGHANISTAN: Repatriation tops 400,000
The campaign to facilitate the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees reached a new milestone on Monday when the combined number of Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran reached 400,000. The joint repatriation programmes, between the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Pakistani and Iranian governments, aim to assist 800,000 return to Afghanistan this year. "More than 20,000 Afghans a week are repatriating from Pakistan," the acting UNHCR spokesman, Aslam Denarzai, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "I expect the 400,000 mark to be crossed this weekend," he maintained. But the cumulative number of Afghan refugees who had repatriated from Pakistan and Iran, the two countries hosting the greatest number of them - about four million - had already surpassed that figure. As of Monday, 385,313 Afghans have been repatriated from Pakistan and 23,050 from Iran.
CENTRAL ASIA: Humanitarian goods transport to be facilitated
A meeting of transport officials of the regional countries in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, has agreed to facilitate transport of humanitarian relief goods in the Central Asian region, particularly aimed at helping neighbouring Afghanistan, an official told IRIN. The two-day conference of the Intergovernmental Commission of TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia), which concluded on Thursday, decided to look into visa regulations, sea transportation, and ways of facilitating the transport of humanitarian aid in the region. It also entrusted a working group to harmonise tariffs for sea transport and to improve the navigation systems for Caspian and Black Seas.
CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly News Wrap
In a bid to boost humanitarian work in Central Asia, a meeting of regional transport officials in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, agreed to facilitate transport of humanitarian relief goods, particularly aimed at helping neighbouring Afghanistan. The two-day conference of the Intergovernmental Commission of TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia), which ended on 25 April, also decided to look into visa regulations, sea transportation, and ways of facilitating the transport of humanitarian aid in the region. It also entrusted a working group to harmonise tariffs for sea transport and to improve navigation on the Caspian and Black Seas.
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