Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan 25 Jul 2005


DDR / DIAG Update

On disarmament, the numbers are continuing to rise. As you may recall, processing of final units was still ongoing when the disarmament and demobilization parts of DDR came to an end earlier this month. As of yesterday 58,603 people had demobilized and 56,388 had entered reintegration - this is an additional 551 people in reintegration from the figures provided as of last Thursday's briefing.

On ammunition, ANBP tells us that 1,403,716 boxed sets have now been collected by their survey teams. This is a rise of 1,703 boxes of ammunition from last week's numbers.

With the second and broader phase in disarmament, which is the recently started Disbanding of Illegal Armed Groups programme, 7,761 weapons are presently verified as having been handed in, with some 4,052 of these being from candidates in the elections. The Joint Secretariat has asked the provincial security committees to proceed with the main phase of DIAG, which is the negotiation with individual armed groups stage. This has now begun. We will provide you with information on how this is going as soon as it becomes available.

UNFPA, MOPH to hold HIV / AIDS workshop

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in organizing a two-day national workshop on HIV/AIDS for religious leaders on July 28th and 29th 2005.

Around 70 religious leaders from all Afghan provinces will be invited by the Ministry of Religious Affairs - the hope is that these leaders will then be in a position to disseminate reliable knowledge about HIV and AIDS among their communities.

UNFPA is also helping to produce posters, educational materials, and radio and TV programmes to inform Afghans of the dangers of the disease.

The workshop will take place in Kabul at the Parwan Hotel and begin at 9am this Thursday. Journalists who wish to attend should contact the UNFPA Information Officer, Mr. Abdul Qayum Karim on 070 203 118 or e-mail

Around 50 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS across the globe and 7.5 million of these are in the Asia and Pacific regions. There is little information on the extent of the problem in Afghanistan, although according to statistics from the National Blood Bank [in Afghanistan] 36 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS out of 3000 that have been tested.

UN-HABITAT, Japan government sign $3.5 million agreement upgrading informal settlements in Afghanistan

UN-Habitat and the Government of Japan have recently signed a US$3.5 million agreement for the upgrading of informal settlements in three Afghan cities - Kandahar, Mazar and Jalalabad.

The aim of the programme is to increase the protection against threats to human security for returnees, Internally Displaced Persons, households that are headed by widows, and other vulnerable families in these informal settlements.

DoWA, UNIFEM help organize Fair Day for women of Charikar City

The Parwan Province Department of Women's Affairs, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is holding a one-of-a-kind Fair for Women, today in Charikar City and surrounding areas.

The Fair provides local women with an opportunity to meet, trade, and exchange information and will be held at the Women's Development Centre (near the Afghan Red Crescent Society building) in Charikar City, Parwan province.

Bronwyn Curran, JEMB International Spokesperson, "JEMB Elections Update"

Civic Educator killed in Paktika

As some of you may already know, a civic educator employed by the Tribal Liaison Office, one of our partner NGOs in the civic education process, was shot dead in Yayha Kheil district last Wednesday by at least two men on motorbikes. They also shot his son in the leg.

It is unclear what the motive was - whether he was targeted for his election work or for other reasons is not yet known.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) however condemns in the strongest terms any violence against people working to bring democracy and stability to Afghanistan.

Mr. Sarwar is the fourth Afghan working in support of elections to be killed this year. In all four cases it is not clear whether they were targeted because of their involvement in elections or for other reasons.

The JEMB also condemns the abduction last Friday of two election workers and another man not connected with elections, from a house in Kamdesh district in Nuristan province. The men were abducted by around 80 men at 3 a.m. Friday, some 11 hours after the Voter Registry Update process concluded. All three were released unharmed on Saturday morning. The identity of their abductors remains unknown.

Voter Registration Update

The JEMB now has preliminary totals from the Voter Registration Update (VRU) which concluded last Thursday.

Around 1.69 million VRU cards were issued in the four weeks from June 25th to July 21st. The majority of these were issued to people registering for the first time.

The rest were corrections to the cards of people who registered ahead of the 2004 Presidential Elections; and a small number were replacements for people who had lost their cards.

Around 42 percent of people who either registered for the first time or corrected their cards were women. I stress these figures are subject to final cross-checks so there could be some slight alterations. The final confirmed figures should be ready by the end of the week.

JEMB to hold weekly press conferences

The JEMB will launch weekly press conferences at the Electoral Compound on Jalalabad Road this Wednesday July 27th. They will be held every Wednesday at 11am.

This week we will be introducing the ballot for the first time. We have mock ballots, exact replicas of the Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Council ballots, which we will be able to present and distribute to the press.

Around 40 million ballots are currently being printed in Europe.

Questions & Answers:

Question: Early this morning an Improvised Explosive Device went off in Macroyan when a UN 'coach' was passing by. My question is whether the UN vehicle was a target and whether anybody from the UN, local or international staff, was injured during the explosion?

Spokesperson: I have heard about this incident. We don't have much information on it at the moment. I am not aware of any UN staff being injured. Like most of these things, it is very difficult to tell initially what the intended target of this attack was. That is all I have at the moment on that.

Question: Has today's explosion affected movements of UN operations?

Spokesperson: There are none in relation to today's incident. I think that generally it is fair to say that 'yes' UN operations in Afghanistan are, from time to time, affected by security incidents, security operations that are ongoing. We have a flexible approach to these so as soon as problems are dealt we do our best to get programme delivery back to affected areas.

Question: The United Nations was planning to open a small branch, or office, in Zabul, following the visit of Jean Arnault (Special Representative to Secretary-General). What is the latest on that?

Spokesperson: I don't have any updates.

Press Conference by Ibrahim Sessay, Acting Head of UNICEF Child Protection Programme

The UNICEF supported community-based and child-specific demobilization and reintegration process began on 13th February 2004 in the North-Eastern region, and has been working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (the focal government body for the underage soldier DR programme).

The underage soldiers DR programme has been established in coordination with the Afghan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), a joint UN-Afghan Government programme which is leading on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants across Afghanistan.

A key requirement to the demobilization process is the accountable identification and verification process of underage soldiers by a local demobilization committee that is set up in each province. The involvement and participation of the community is key to the process. The demobilization process is carried out by The Mobile Demobilization Documentation Team, which thoroughly re-checks the eligibility of each underage soldier. The underage soldiers are mostly from irregular armed groups. [UNAMA Note: mostly porters, messengers, and errand-boys lined with either the former formal structure of the AMF or with commanders of illegal armed groups. Any under-age soldier registered as part of the AMF was referred to UNICEF by ANBP during the DDR process. ANBP indicates that some 100 of its participants were under-age soldiers].

With technical and organizational support from UNICEF, 4,124 underage soldiers have been demobilized in the Phase I of the programme. North-eastern region, North, East, and Central regions by the Mobile Demobilization Documentation Team (MDDT) which comprises of AREA, a local non-governmental organization, and the medical organization - International Medical Corps.

Demobilization process

The underage soldiers demobilization and reintegration programme has been receiving support from the communities, local authorities and fighting forces. There has been no incidence of security threat or disturbance from any quarter in all the operational locations where demobilization has been carried out.

Reintegration of demobilized ex-underage soldiers and other war-affected young people

The reintegration process is closely linked to the demobilization process. Reintegration support has been provided to 7,688 at-risk young people in the central highlands, central, north east and eastern regions including 2,955 underage soldiers. New opportunities and alternatives to military life are being provided through a community based reintegration support process to demobilized underage soldiers, including street, working, IDP, returnee young people.

Access to quality, basic education for demobilized underage soldiers and skills training and apprenticeships

In preparation for entry into gainful, skilled employment, vocational education and training can provide practical skills for older children who have already acquired functional literacy and numeric skills. The incorporation of vocational education often better meets the requirements of the labour market.

For persons aged 15 and over, guidance on training and employment options should be provided and, wherever possible, they should be helped to take advantage of training opportunities that already exist. Again, employment guidance and facilitation services, on-the-job training, apprenticeships and mentoring arrangements, may have to be specially designed to meet the special needs and circumstances of ex-child soldiers.

No monetary payments are made to any of the beneficiaries. A cooperation agreement with WFP provides food rations to those enrolled in the reintegration process. The food rations are provided on a monthly basis through the respective implementing partners.

In order to increase the employability of ex-underage soldiers, occupational start-up tool kits for different trades (such as plumbing, carpentry, and blacksmithing) will be provided upon commencement of the apprenticeship or after completion of the vocational training.

Note that vocational skills training by itself does not lead to employment. Of the total number in skills training/agriculture productive activities, 2,149 beneficiaries have graduated so far (central highlands, Nangahar and Badakshan provinces) and 85 % (1,826) are now gainfully employed whilst 5,539 are still in training.

Support to families - 1,500 families have been supported under the livelihoods and micro-enterprise scheme. A revolving fund was established in Nangahar and Parwan provinces.

Phase II of the DR programme

The Phase II started on 18 July 2005 and will cover the following locations - west, south, south east and north. The expected time for the completion of the demobilization is September 2005 to be followed by reintegration assistance. So far the demobilization process in Heart province was completed on 23 July with 119 underage soldiers demobilized. The cumulative total of demobilized soldiers now stands at 4,243. The next simultaneous deployments are Badgis and Farah provinces to be followed and Ghor and later to the north.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have an estimate of how many child soldiers there are in Afghanistan? There was a story in the press a few days ago that suggested that the Taliban were recruiting young boys - can you comment on this?

Ibrahim Sessay: That is a very interesting question - we also have heard about this is the news, although we don't have any evidence. It is the responsibility of the government, who we are working alongside, to ensure that there is peace and stability in those locations. We will move on in terms of advocacy, if they are being recruited by forces and then continue with reintegration support. But it is quite an unfortunate issue in a situation of armed conflict, whereby children are being caught in the middle of all that is going on at the moment and being recruited by a fighting force. So we urge those parties that have recruited children to release them unconditionally so they can go back into their normal lives. And once we know more about this issue, we can see what best we can do in providing alternative support to those people.

Question: Have you done reintegration in Kunar province as well as the other areas?

Ibrahim Sessay: Of course, it has been covered fully.

Question: As you mentioned about the local committee, I would like to ask if it is a provincial committee, or regular committee or district committee?

Ibrahim Sessay: As I mentioned, every province has a committee. Individuals are nominated and following a screening process, they are the ones that who are part of the committee at the provincial level. These persons come from different backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, and different locations within the province.

Question: How many workshops have you established for these child soldiers, and how many children have been included in this programme, and have you collected any weapons from the children?

Ibrahim Sessay: I don't have the number of workshops with me at the moment. We have now provided reintegration support to 7,688 children, both for those demobilized and other children at risk at different locations. We do not carry out a disarmament process. That is a military operation that we of course cannot get ourselves involved in. So we are only doing demobilization.