Press briefing by David Singh, Public Information Officer, Office of Communication and Public Information UNAMA 20 Feb 2003

Tokyo Conference on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

This morning the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, left Kabul for Japan where he will attend a special international conference on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in Afghanistan. Mr. Brahimi will then go to Malaysia for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur. Following that he will make an official visit to Pakistan before returning to Afghanistan on 5 March.

The conference in Tokyo on Saturday 22 February is called 'Consolidation of Peace (DDR) in Afghanistan'. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also be attending the conference. Countries will be invited to make pledges towards the financing of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.

Yesterday here in Kabul, the Japanese Government signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme to contribute 35 million US dollars for the implementation of Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP). More details are in the press note.

Defence Advisory Committee

UNAMA welcomes the establishment this week by Presidential decree of the Consultation Commission on Defence Affairs.

The decree was issued on Tuesday this week by President Hamid Karzai.

The Commission is to be headed by the Defence Minister, General Fahim, and will also include the Minster of Foreign Affairs, the Interior Minister, the Finance Minister, the State National Security Advisor, the heads of the four commissions for the Afghan National Army, representatives of the United Nations and of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. The commission will start its work as soon as possible.

UNAMA hopes it will enable more rapid progress on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process and on setting up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and will improve coordination between the four commissions on DDR and the ANA.

Explosions in Kunduz

Two nights ago (Tuesday 18 February) at around 7:55 p.m. an explosive device was thrown over the wall of the compound of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in the south side of Kunduz city. The device, which landed on the ground three metres from the wall and 10 metres from the main building, exploded leaving a small crater (40 cm wide and 20 cm deep). The blast blew out windows in the building as well as in two cars, which were parked nearby. Fortunately, due to heavy snow at the time, local IOM staff who work outside in the compound were sheltering in a shed and no-one was injured or killed. According to security there was no fragmentation from the device, ruling out the possibility of it being a grenade. Evidence so far suggests that it was an improvised explosive device (IED).

One hour later a second explosion occurred in the middle of town close to the bank and Headquarters of the 6th Army Corps. Parts of a plastic bag burned during the explosion were found at the spot but again there were no fragments. An empty fuel tanker parked on the street and the doors of two shops were partially damaged.

Local authorities are investigating the incident.

Salang Tunnel

In an operation that began yesterday and continues today, avalanches are being triggered on the Salang Tunnel through controlled explosions. This delicate task is being carried out by the Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) and Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) avalanche experts in close collaboration with the UN Mine Action Centre of Afghanistan (UNMACA). The World Food Programme is providing a helicopter.

As you may know following the recent heavy snowfalls, the Tunnel has been closed for the last three days due to the risk of avalanches. The Salang links the south and the north of the country. Following the controlled explosions and weather permitting, it is expected that the Tunnel will be re-opened on Friday. The decision to close the tunnel and trigger avalanches was taken for the safety of Salang commuters. The risk of avalanches due to heavy winds and sunny weather is far too high. In order to prevent any loss of life and re-open the Salang as soon as possible and in safety, controlled explosions are necessary. The Halo Trust and all local authorities have also all cooperated and contributed to the exercise to keep the Salang safe.

Regrettably at about 1:00 p.m. yesterday there was an accident on the Salang. Two Ministry of Public Works employees went out during the explosions to have a look at the avalanches. One was killed by the impact. The other is OK.

Floods in Kandahar

Due to the heavy rains in the south of Afghanistan there is water in the irrigation dam in Bahla - for the first time in four years. The dam provides water to five districts - Dand, Arghband, Panjwaia, Kandahar city and Daman. The crops grown in the region include pomegranates, grapes, apricots, wheat, barley, maize and mung beans.

Tragically three children died in flash flooding in Kandahar province on Monday. It happened about 20 kilmetres east of Kandahar city near the Kandahar-Spin Boldak Road in Daman district when heavy rains led to floods in washes. There were also floods near Spin Boldak. The floods have now subsided and there are no reports of other deaths or injuries.

Food and Agriculture Organization

We have at the side of the room three press releases from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - in one the FAO announces its support to the Nangarhar Valley Development Authority (NVDA) in the rehabilitation of 20 hectares of olive plantations in Nangarhar province. This pilot project is a step towards the rehabilitation of 1400 hectares of olive orchards.

The NDVA is part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. For more details see the press release.

The second press release is on the successful eradication of the deadly cattle disease Rinderpest in Pakistan and Asia. The third one addresses the unequal access of developing countries to biotechnology.

Questions and answers

Question: The man killed on the Salang Tunnel, was he part of the project [to carry out controlled explosions]?

Spokesman: Yes, it's a joint project by the Ministry of Public Works and ACTED. He was there [with the project] and the two men went outside to have a look, out of curiosity, when the tragedy took place.

Question: The NGO Mercy Corps has apparently pulled out of Kandahar following recent security incidents there, is the UN reconsidering its position in Kandahar?

Spokesman: No, we are going to remain in Kandahar.

Question: The IOM office in Kunduz, is it still operational?

Spokesman: It was a very small crater. As I said the explosive device was thrown over the wall and landed on the ground. The crater it created was 40 cm wide and 20cm deep and a few windows were blown out, but yes it's operational.

Question: Was it the first attack in Kunduz on the international organizations?

Spokesman: It is the first attack on the UN in Kunduz.

Question: Do you have any news about an explosion at a NGO office in Kunduz

Spokesman: No I have no information on that. The only explosion I know of is the one that took place at IOM. The second one actually took place between certain buildings, there was no specific location and it damaged an empty oil tanker and some shop windows. There were two on the same night [on Tuesday].