Afghanistan

Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the SRSG in Afghanistan 16 Jan 2006

TALKING POINTS
London Conference

Here at UNAMA we are busy along with the Government of Afghanistan and the UK Government with preparations for the London Conference at the end of the month. Over the coming days we have a number of press events planned specifically for journalists and editors who are covering the London Conference and interested in what it means for the future of the huge nation-rebuilding process here. Details are being sent to you in due course. As you know the principle themes are Security, Governance and Human Rights, and Economic Development -- in addition to the cross cutting issue of tackling narcotics.

UNODC chief to visit

We are informed this morning by our colleagues at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC's executive director, is expected to visit Afghanistan later this month. We'll provide you with details of any press events related to this as those details become available.

Landslide in Sar-i-Pul

UN offices and agencies in Afghanistan are hearing of incidents related to weather conditions this winter. Among them has been a report of a landslide caused by heavy rain, affecting Ghondori village, in Khoistanat district of Sar-i-Pul province. We are still ascertaining what casualties there may have been, but our understanding is that more than a dozen people have been affected and a number of houses and livestock destroyed. UN agencies in the region have been alerted and stand ready to assist the Afghan authorities if required. UNAMA will continue to monitor the situation.

IOM winter assistance to vulnerable communities

Among measures the UN has taken regarding winterization, the International Organisation for Migration has set aside $50,000 to help with emergency transport assistance for vulnerable Afghans this winter and spring. As in the past two years, the main activities foreseen include using IOM vehicles for pre-positioning of food and non-food items, as well as transport of those items in response to emergency situations. Additionally, transport can be provided on a voluntary basis to those in vulnerable settlements in need of relocation.

IOM campaign to address dangers of irregular migration

The IOM has also signed an agreement with the British Government who will fund a $283,000 public information campaign to reduce irregular and illegal migration.

The campaign will aim to raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration, counter misconceptions about irregular migration, and to publicize information about regular migration.

The one-year programme covering Kabul and Afghan provinces most affected will also raise awareness of common trafficking scenarios that impact on both men and women such as incidents that may lead to forced marriages, kidnapping, sexual exploitation and forced labour.

Opening of Afghanistan's first family response Unit

Afghanistan's first family response unit is to open next Monday (22 January) at District 10 police station, Kabul. The family response unit is being set up by the Afghan national Police with support from both the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAMA and is a dedicated facility to enable victims of family violence to be dealt with sympathetically by trained officers. The Unit will play an important role in dealing with family violence, children in trouble and female victims of crime.

Media are invited to attend the opening. Details are on the side table.

Over half a million girls back to school in 2005

Support to the education sector in 2005 has seen 528,690 girls being newly enrolled in schools; 176,122 of these are in UNICEF-assisted community-based schools and 352,568 in regular government primary schools.

UNICEF supported the provision of student materials for some 4.8 million pupils. 4,000 teachers began a new Teacher Education Programme, providing quality in-service training.

Over 100,000 children also benefited from improved classroom environments through UNICEF- assisted supplied classroom tents and the construction / rehabilitation of schools. In addition over 9,000 non-formal school teachers were provided with Mine Risk Education training and materials, contributing towards a 10% per cent reduction in mine-related incidents in Afghanistan.

UNHCR sets out programme for Afghan repatriation in 2006

The UN refugee agency has published its 2006 programme to help the return, reintegration and protection of Afghan refugees.

Under its voluntary repatriation operation, now in its fifth year, UNHCR expects to assist some 600,000 refugees to return from Pakistan and Iran. As in previous years, assistance will be in the form of a transportation grant of between US$4 and US$37, as well as a cash grant of US$12 per person.

UNHCR's shelter programme in Afghanistan, which has resulted in more than 140,000 homes being built across the country, will continue, with plans for an additional 19 thousand homes in 2006.

UNHCR tripartite commission meeting

Representatives of the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the UN Refugee Agency are meeting in Geneva tomorrow for a regular review of the repatriation of Afghans living in Pakistan.

The parties to the March 2003 Tripartite Agreement on repatriation will discuss issues including plans for further camp closures in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan's ability to absorb the large numbers of returns that may result.

DDR

Reintegration of former members of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF) is ongoing with a new course starting next Saturday, 21 January. The course, in business management, lasts for a month and 25 former commanders are expected to attend.

Two hundred and thirty five former commanders in total are scheduled to benefit from this type of class. It is part of a project known as the Commander Incentive Package, which is a US$2.5 million project funded by the government of Japan.

Reintegrating ex-commanders is crucial because of the link between these and their soldiers and the dependency links of soldiers on commanders. This has created a strong social network of dependency, but it is also a potential threat to security.

Question and Answer

Question: Has there been any assistance for IDPs in Kabul for this Winter? Also, what is being done to help returnees who face unemployment?

Spokesperson: Yes, we do provide assistance, and we're conscious of the needs in this area and that's what our programmes are aimed at. My colleague Tim Irwin, of UNHCR, is with us today, and he has more on this:

Tim Irwin, Public Information Officer, UNHCR: This is a question which we get a lot about the people returning and the conditions that exist within Afghanistan. This is a key issue, which is going to be discussed at a meeting [this week] of the Afghan government, representatives of the Pakistani government and UNHCR in Geneva. We and other parties are very much aware that Afghanistan has a limited absorption capacity, that conditions inside the country are still difficult and that the return of refugees still needs to be managed in a sustainable way. What we want to avoid is a massive influx of people such as we saw last year.

Spokesperson: The context of this is important to understand too. You know that in this country almost one third of the population became refugees during the period of conflict. To understand just how difficult it is -- family by family, individual by individual -- to bring back more than four million people... it is quite an astounding achievement and I don't think matched in many places in the world. We are cognizant that in this area, as in others, there is much more work to be done. The job in Afghanistan is far from over and that's why we are all going to London in two weeks time to commit to what has to be done next.

Question: What role did UNAMA play in drafting the Afghan Compact?

Spokesperson: UNAMA has had a role in coordinating with the government of Afghanistan, with donors, with the UK government on the Afghan Compact. It's been a complex negotiation process to work towards a common text, and we've had a role at the centre of that with our colleagues in government, and with the UK government.

Question: What will be UNAMA's mandate after the London Conference?

Spokesperson: Our expectation is that the UNAMA mandate will be continued -- it comes due in March. However, the decision on that is a decision made in New York. Exactly the form of that mandate, we'll have to wait and see -- but I think you will see in the Afghan Compact much of the work we will have to do over the next years, and I think it would be logical to assume that that [the Afghan Compact] will determine much of what we will be doing.

Question: UN and UNAMA activities have not been transparent enough -- will this be the same in the future?

Spokesperson: Our feeling is that we have been transparent, and as far as possible. We've answered your questions wherever possible on all the key issues you come to us about. However, I think it's an area in the United Nations we're all aware of and we constantly work at -- we have to show we're effective, we have to show how we're helping Afghanistan, we have to show how we're spending money effectively -- and we endeavor to do all these things

It's important to recognize just how much work is going on here. Apart from what we've told you about [today] there are the millions of refugees who have returned, you've have millions of children back in school, millions of children immunized against diphtheria, polio, against tetanus. You've had disarmament programs with DDR, you've had elections, you've had a new constitution, you've had a new currency, thousands of kilometers of roads are being built. Enormous relief work has gone on, very serious work everyday. We hope you can see this -- we hope it's visible to you. And certainly there's a lot more to do -- we're never satisfied that we've done enough.

Question: Will be there any change in the UNAMA mandate after the London Conference? Will there be any agreement or any convention signed after the London Conference with regards to Afghanistan?

Spokesperson: For sure UNAMA's work is changing. The Bonn process pretty much came to an end with the inauguration of Parliament. The aim of the Bonn process was to give representative government, and I think that was pretty much the final stage of that. So our work is very definitely changing, but how it changes -- the mandate of UNAMA will be decided in New York in March.

On your second question. You will see a number of things coming out of that [London Conference]. You will see the work that has been going on within the Afghan government on the Interim Afghan National Development Strategy, which is the government's medium-term plan. The major joint international and Afghan document is the Afghanistan Compact, which is an agreement which will set out the next five years -- what the priorities are, what the benchmarks are -- it will allow you to see what's going to happen over this period, with a sense of when it's going to happen. It will aim to give you realistic expectations of the next stage of nation rebuilding.

I think over the past four years we're glad to have seen progress but we all acknowledge that this is still an early stage in Afghanistan's rebuilding and development and we're now looking at entering the next stage of this process. This is what the Afghan Compact will provide you [the press] with -- guidance on where things are going to go over the next few years. It's crucial to understand there's a period of hard work ahead -- we've just finished one period of hard work. It doesn't get easy now -- there's a lot to be done, people's expectations have to be correct, we all have to understand the work that will go on here and how long it will take. But in effect, you will have in the Afghan Compact a set of clear benchmarks over the next few years plus assurance that the international community is fully behind you, fully behind the Afghan Government, in this next important stage.