Afghanistan

Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan 04 Jul 2005

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TALKING POINTS
MoD holds ceremony for 45 former AMF commanders

Yesterday, July 3rd, a ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defence to reward a further 45 former Afghan Military Force commanders for supporting the Demobilisation, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) programme. Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme provides financial packages to senior officers who have shown full support for the DDR process. As of today 378 commanders have benefited from this package.

As I mentioned at our last briefing, although the Disarmament and Demobilisation elements of DDR have now ended, the numerical indicators remain subject to change as verification and the inclusion of final units proceeds. The most recent numbers are 62,252 combatants disarmed, and 52,509 having entered the reintegration process. In terms of weapons, 34,726 light and medium calibre weapons have been collected, of which 14,754 have been handed to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the Afghan National Army (ANA). The rest remain in safe storage.

The Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) on Saturday distributed food packages to 195 soldiers' widows employed at an AMF sewing factory in Kabul. These women were contractors who, as a result of decommissioning of the unit in which their husbands served have been made redundant. The remaining soldiers and officers of this unit have entered the DDR process and will be entitled to full reintegration benefits.

For your information we understand that a formal ceremony for the end of the "DD" parts of DDR, will take place on Thursday.

Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG)

With the new stage in Afghanistan's broad disarmament - the Disbanding of Illegal Armed Groups Programme - 12,257 weapons have been handed in since June 11th when DIAG began. Of these 5,942 have now been verified by ANBP teams, as well as 342 boxed and 6,841 unboxed ammunition sets.

New UNDP report warns of devastating consequences regarding Afghanistan and other Asia-Pacific countries

A new UNDP report covering 14 of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the Asia-Pacific, warns that the fast growth and rising prosperity of China and India are masking widespread poverty in countries such as Afghanistan and Timor-Lest.

As a result, development aid and debt relief to this country and other Least Developed Countries have been disproportionately low and should be increased for the Millennium Development Goals - the global framework for fighting poverty - to be reached.

The report, launched on July 1st and entitled "Voices of the Least Developed Countries of Asia and the Pacific: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals Through a Global Partnership", states that "due to the tyranny of averages, the relatively poor performance of the Asia-Pacific LDCs gets overshadowed".

You'll recall back in February when the UNDP released its first National Human Development Report, Afghanistan ranked 173rd out of 178 nations. One of the findings from the new report is that 56% of Afghans live below the national poverty line - this is the highest rate among Asia-Pacific Least Developed Countries.

UNDP has provided a press release with further information on Afghanistan. The full report may also be downloaded from their website (www.undp.org).

New pharmaceutical machinery will make Afghanistan healthier

In another UNDP initiative, tomorrow, Tuesday July 5th, two cargo planes carrying pharmaceutical machinery will be arriving in Kabul. The equipment will be installed in a new Afghan-owned and operated pharmaceutical factory.

This initiative, the Afghan Generic Medicines Project, brings together private and public partners. The plant's equipment and materials, as well as pharmaceutical expertise and training are being donated by the European Generic Medicines Association (EGA), the official body representing roughly 500 pharmaceutical companies from the generic medicines industry in Europe.

The plant will produce urgently needed antibiotics and analgesics with capacity for 300 to 400 million tablets annually. Presently, Afghanistan does not produce any pharmaceutically standardized medicines. While pharmacies are abundant in most parts of the country, very little standardization exists to monitor the quality of medicines being distributed.

Click here to read the UNDP media advisory indicating the time of arrival of the plane and names of those available for interviews.

If you are interested in being at the airport please note that you will need authorization to access the airport tarmac.

Ministry of Women's Affairs continuing workshops for National Plan for Women

The Ministry of Women's Affairs is currently holding a planning workshop at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on issues related to policies and programmes aimed at benefiting women.

This workshop is the seventh in a series organized by the Ministry of Women's Affairs and supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). These workshops will provide the foundation for a National Plan of Action for the Women of Afghanistan.

Election-related TV and radio programmes supported by UNIFEM

Since June 23rd, UNIFEM has been providing technical and financial support for a TV and radio series on fundamental constitutional and parliamentary concepts. The issues being aired are drawn from the UNIFEM Parliamentary Manual and are featured in a 30-minute weekly show.

The series, which consists of 11 episodes, is being aired on Afghan state TV on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 10:00 in the evening and rebroadcast on Fridays from 2:00 to 2:30 in the afternoon. The state radio is also airing the show each Sunday from 9:00 to 9:30pm.

The last session, on July 12th, is devoted to audience questions and answers and should make for interesting viewing.

UNIFEM's parliamentary manual was offered to you during one of our previous briefings. It has also been distributed to government offices, staff from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) and more than 6050 candidates through JEMB provincial offices.

World Bank grants US$28m to National Solidarity Program

On June 30th the World Bank approved a US$28 million grant for continued support to the Afghanistan National Solidarity Programme (NSP). The programme provides resources for reconstruction and development at the community level, and for strengthened local governance.

The National Solidarity Programme is currently being implemented in 33 provinces, and is providing thousands of villages with benefits from drinking water, irrigation schemes, roads, micro hydro-electrical plants and generators, to training and livelihood projects, as well as schools and sanitation.

Decisions over how funds are used are made by Community Development Councils, which are elected through secret ballot. As of May 2005 the project was ongoing in over 8,000 villages, with 7,348 Community Development Councils having been elected.

The National Solidarity Programme was launched in 2002. It has already received a US$117 million grant from the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) - in addition to a US$42 million grant from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and an US$11 million grant from the Japanese Social Development Trust Fund (JSDF).

For more information on the World Bank's activities in Afghanistan, visit: www.worldbank.org/af.

Click here to read the World Bank press release in English and Pashto.

Briefing from Bronwyn Curran, Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Spokesperson

JEMB condemns with great sadness the killing of Mullah Mohammad Nabi Mesbah in Kandahar yesterday (Sun July 3rd)

Among other posts held by Mullah Mesbah, he was a member of the recently established Provincial Electoral Commission in Kandahar.

While the motive for his killing is not clear, JEMB Chairman Bissmillah Bissmil condemned the attack as an act of violence against the Afghan people's hopes for peace and stability.

JEMB launches toll-free Voter Information Centre hotline available to Afghans across the country

By dialing 1 8 0 from any landline or mobile phone anywhere in Afghanistan, callers will be connected to one of 10 operators any time between 7am and 7pm Saturday to Thursday. Operators are fluent in Dari, Pashto, English and a sprinkling of other languages and will be able to answer personally any question on any aspect of the electoral process.

The Voter Information Centre began taking public calls on Saturday afternoon and since then has fielded more than 200 phone enquiries. This number - 1 8 0 - will be advertised in newspapers, and on radio and television.

Click here to read the JEMB press release in English, Dari or Pashto.

JEMB passes regulation on campaigning by candidates for Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Council elections

In the interests of free expression, the regulation states all candidates' right to publish and propagate their campaigns during the electoral process, up until 48 hours before polling day when a campaign blackout will be imposed.

Campaign activities are subject to the laws of Afghanistan and the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates. The only other restrictions are on election advertising in the media - candidates may only advertise on radio, television and newspapers during the official campaign period from August 17 to September 15.

Candidates wishing to hold rallies or other campaign events must submit written requests for approval from local police authorities, at least 48 hours prior to the event. Likewise permission must be sought before posting leaflets on either public or private buildings.

Voter Registry Update now in its second week

By the close of the first week approximately 273,000 Afghans had either corrected the province of residence listed on their cards, or added their names to the Voter List. That includes around 243,000 newly-registered voters. We now have all but 10 of the 1,053 Voter Registration sites open and operating.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have two questions for Bronwyn. Do you know the reasons behind the killing of Mullah Mohammad Nabi Mesbah, who is behind it, and do you think this will have a setback on the elections process happening now?

Bronwyn Curran, JEMB International Spokesperson: As I stated earlier, the motive for the killing is still not clear, we don't know. It is difficult to say whether he was targeted because of his work with elections or for one of the other posts he held. So it is difficult to link it directly to elections, but the JEMB condemns the killing because he was working in support of the electoral process.

Question: Since Friday, two journalists from Radio Free Europe have been arrested in Kunar province by local authorities and local security forces. Two other Associated Press journalists also have been arrested. The Afghanistan Independent Journalist Association issued a press release and in it said that the health of one of the journalists is in a bit tough condition...he is unconscious. In this case, I want to know what information you have about the journalists and what can UNAMA do for their release?

Spokesperson: I'm afraid I don't have any information on these journalists. I think you probably know that UNAMA has stated quite clearly that we believe the media plays a vital role in helping the kind of democratic process on which Afghanistan is currently engaged. It is a crucial role that you are all in, also a fundamental tenement of the Freedom of Expression. So we very are very much fully behind the press. I'm afraid I don't have details on this case for you.

Question: Regarding the UNDP report, what does the United Nations think if Afghanistan meets the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the reduction of poverty by the year 2015? Is it in optimism or is it getting worse, because some people believe that in the last three years poverty has worsened outside the capital of Kabul?

Spokesperson: The Millennium Development Goals for Afghanistan is something that is being worked on right at the moment. It is crucial that these are achievable goals. But that is something that is in progress and I believe that President Karzai is going to the General Assembly in September to talk about these on that occasion. But right at the moment these are still being sorted out and formulated. You are asking for specific progress on whether there has been a change...(cutoff).

Question: ...if Afghanistan meets the poverty reduction?

Spokesperson: Afghanistan...did not sign in 2000 the Millennium Declaration. But it [signed the Declaration in March 2004]. So once you have those goals stated and the government is committed to them, that is a mechanism for the government to tell you what it is aiming at and for you to hold it accountable to those goals.