Afghanistan + 3 more

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva Spokesman for the SRSG for Afghanistan 21 May 2002

News and Press Release
Originally published
Killing in the Ghor Province

I have to give you the sad news of the killing of Mr. Mohammed Rahim in the village of Aodok in Chaghcharan district in Ghor province. He was killed the night of Sunday to Monday at his residence. He was shot. He had been selected by the local district shura to be one of the members of the electoral college from that district for the Loya Jirga on Sunday. I do not have any details beyond what I just gave you. We do not know the motivation of this murder. Of course, if there were to be a political motivation it would be a matter of serious concern. But I repeat, we do not know what motivated this killing. Of course, any investigation should be carried out by the local authorities as Afghan authorities are responsible for security in the country.

Update on the Loya Jirga

Instead of giving you how many districts we have had so far, what I will do today is to give you the estimated number of districts shuras that are to still to happen. We estimate around 65 districts that still need to conduct their shuras throughout the country. Phase II has started in Mazaar today for the north and it is expected to be concluded tomorrow. Phase II is expected in Bamyan on the 23rd and 24th May. Between the 27th -30th May it is to happen in Jalalabad and in Kunduz on June 1st and 2nd. Kabul region, as you know, in addition to conducting phase I, it is also conducting phase II whenever it is possible to do so. I would like to tell you about some phase II votes that are expected in the Kabul area if you are interested in covering some of that. Today phase II elections are expected to take place in districts 9, 11 and 12. Tomorrow in districts 7 and 10, and on Thursday in district 8. A phase II voting in the Kabul region bringing together a number of districts is expected to happen between the 31st and June 1st. At this point, I do not have date for phase II voting in other regions.

DSRG Nigel Fisher and Chef de Cabinet in New Dehli

Tomorrow, Nigel Fisher, DSRSG for Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction and UNAMA's Chef de Cabinet, Karl Fisher, travel with the Minister of Finance, Mr. Hedayat Amin Arsala and the Minister of Education, Professor Rassoul Amin, to attend a conference on South-South Cooperation and Reconstruction of Afghanistan, from 23-24 May in New Delhi, India.

The Conference, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Indian Government, is geared towards those countries, which were unable to attend the Tokyo Conference in January of this year.

The main objective of the forthcoming meeting is to address challenges facing Afghanistan, including its socio-economic recovery and reconstruction over the medium as well as the long-term. The conference will also identify specific capacity needs in the areas of information and communication technology as well as examining opportunities for capacity building and the development of skills and entrepreneurship among Afghan Nationals

We have also just received the final communiqué of the Tehran meeting which happened a couple of days ago. If you are interested, we can have copies available.

Flooding in Bamyan

On Tuesday 14 May heavy rains resulted in freak floods in Waras town, in Waras district, Bamyan Province, and caused damage to 18 villages. This town is 60km south of Panjab. The effected population is estimated at 25,000 people. It is reported that one person was killed, and 7 houses destroyed.

The most serious damage is to the agriculture with 20-50% of agricultural land destroyed. There was heavy loss of livestock and the irrigation canals and cultivation has been badly damaged or destroyed. 15km of the main road between Waras and Punjab, a quarter of its length is impassable due to mudslides. This cuts off Waras from its main artery connection. Humanitarian aid cannot reach the town.

Yesterday, UNICEF, UNAMA and ISAF sent a helicopter to the region to conduct a road survey to assess the extent of damage. An engineering report is expected today.

1,000 collapsable jerry cans, to ensure that people have portable water, medical supplies including 5,000 boxes of oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea will be dispatched to the site over the next 48 hours. Assistance also includes a UNICEF medical kit, containing enough medicines for a population of 10,000 people with antibiotics and preventive medicines.

The Action Contre la Faim clinic outside Waras will be responsible for overseeing distribution.

FAO - Development of Small-Scale and Village Poultry Production

A dynamic and self-financing Poultry Farmer's Association (PFA) has been established in Jalalabad, which according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will provide incomes for women, particularly the internally displaced, refugees and widows.

This is patterned after the Kabul Poultry Farmer's Association, which began in 1998 and has gradually increased in production and has now grown to 130 semi-commercial poultry producers while in Jalalabad there are 25. The incorporation of women into the project began just over a year ago. According to the FAO these two projects are an opportunity for women to regain their dignity, reintegrate into their communities, survive and earn regular incomes.

Two thousand five hundred village women in the districts around Kabul, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e-Sharif have been trained and each supplied with one dozen crossbred pullets (a young hen in its first year of egg laying) and improved coops (a cage/housing for small animals like hens). 40 of the trainers are women and each of these pullets produce 200 eggs annually compared to only 50 for traditional chickens.

Chickens in Afghanistan have traditionally been the free-range type - i.e. they were allowed to roam around unrestricted. Participants in the PFAs are now shown how to make coops made of mud and wire to keep the chickens in so that they can be properly managed, fed and monitored.

Visit of European Commissioner Patten in Kabul

The press conference of European Commissioner Chris Patten is rescheduled to this afternoon, at 3.45 p.m. at the Afghan Assistance Coordinating Authority office. That is in the former Prime Minister's compound). Mr. Patten is in Kabul on a two-day visit and will leave at the end of today for Islamabad.

WFP Update on the Women Bakery Project - Alejandro Chicheri

The Women Bakery Project is one of our biggest projects in Kabul. Throughout January - March 2002, the 21 bakeries operating in 14 Kabul districts with a staff of 318 produced 33,500 loaves of bread daily.

Beginning on 28 March, 11 of these bakeries increased production in order to provide bread to three area schools participating in the Emergency Free Food School Feeding Programme. From mid-May the Emergency Free Food program will have developed program specific and independent baking capacities

WFP monitors are in the process of registering an additional 5000-5500 vulnerable households in several districts of Kabul. We expect to reach with this new registration around 70% of urban vulnerable in Kabul, up from 40%. This will allow the establishment of between 10 and 15 new women operated bakeries, bringing employment opportunities to more than 500 women.

If any of you are interested, you can join me to visit any of these bakeries to see firsthand how these women are taking control of their futures and the advantages of this programme.

A detailed handout is available for more information.

UNHCR Update on Returnees - Yusuf Hassan

More than 661,000 Afghans have been assisted to return home under the Afghan Interim Administration and UNHCR repatriation programme launched on the 1st March. Of these 594,000 have entered Afghanistan from Pakistan, some 47,000 returned from Iran and nearly 10,000 have repatriated from Tajikistan. There have also been some small returns from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and India.

Some 60% of the refugees are returning to rural areas, mostly in eastern Afghanistan while about 40% are returning to urban areas, the majority of them to Kabul city.

So far, UNHCR has dispersed US$ 12 million in cash and distributed aid packages of plastic sheets, blankets, buckets/jerry cans, hygienic kits and soap worth nearly US$ 5 million to returnees. Returnee families also get 150 kilograms of wheat from the World Food Programme.

Last week, UNHCR completed the return of 15, 538 IDPs from the Hesar Shahi camp near Jalalabad to their homes areas in Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Kabul provinces. In an ongoing operation, we have moved 866 IDPs from Spin Boldak in southern Afghanistan.

Since December, UNHCR, the Afghan Ministry of Repatriation and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have also helped over 160,000 internally displaced people return to their areas of origin. The returnees are assisted with transport, receive a package of household items and three months supply of wheat.

To monitor the status and rights of returnees and IDPs, UNHCR is deploying additional protection officers to respond to human rights concern in key areas of northern Afghanistan. A total of 22 refugee rights officers will be stationed in its 8 regional offices. Some 16 officers are posted or currently on mission to the country.

In order to aid returnees and IDPs rebuild and re-start their lives, UNHCR plans to help the construction and repair of 96,000 shelters, which will benefit more than 500,000 people. Agreements have been signed or have been finalised with NGOs for the construction of more than 29,000 houses in the rural areas most affected by the war. More than 15 NGOs will undertake the shelter programme in northern, western, southern, central and eastern Afghanistan.

UNHCR has purchased locally 15,000 beams to be used in the construction of the first 750 housing units. It is procuring 50% of the wood for the housing project abroad in order to minimise damage to national forests.

Questions and Answers

Q:This is about the killing of Dr. Abdul Rahman in February. I am curious to know if the UN has been monitoring the investigations or whether it has any information or anything to say about the administration of the investigation of this. Also, I was wondering, in March the family of Dr. [inaudible] asked the UN to appoint an impartial special commission to investigate the case - they cite the Bonn Agreement and its investigations into human rights and I was wondering if you know if anything at all has come of that?

Spokesman: I don't know about this request that you mention. It is the first time that I hear about it. That does not mean that it did not come but I have not heard about it. On the investigation, of course, it is a matter that the authorities have announced that they are proceeding with. We believe that once they conclude their investigations they should make their results public. It would be a positive step to this process and for those who feel anxieties [over this murder]. The indication of action being taken is important.

Q: There seems to be a dispute about whether the Loya Jirga proceedings should be broadcast live throughout Afghanistan and world-wide and as to how much press coverage should be made possible on that occasion. How do the United Nations come into that?

Spokesman: I don't think there is a dispute as no decision has been made. The decision will be made by the Commission.

Q cont.: Not by the ISAF? Obviously there is a security concern if there was to be a broadcast.

Spokesman: ISAF has no role in deciding that, nor has the United Nations. It is a decision of the Commissioners. I can tell you what I would like to see, but that does not mean that it will happen. We think that if the technical means exist for the public session - in any parliament at the United Nations, in Berlin, in Paris, in Washington, everywhere in the world where you have a parliament or something like a parliament, you have open and closed sessions. We would hope that the open sessions or the public sessions could be broadcast if the technical facilities are in place for that. I hear that in previous Loya Jirgas when there was radio, There were broadcasts the day after - not live. I was not here then, but I am told that some perceive this as being the tradition or the practice. In fact I am going to the site tomorrow to look at facilities regarding your work. We would like to see a press center that would have the facilities to allow you to broadcast live if you wish to do so if the Commission allows whatever sessions to be public. We are also looking into the opening and closing ceremonies. Although we don't have any indications yet of the number of journalists coming, it is I think, fair to expect a significantly large number to attend. I believe there will be space limitations for everyone to be in the very room. If the opening and closing sessions were allowed to have press presence, we will have to see how we will do that. We have to organize a pool with your help. It is the last thing anyone working in media relations likes to do, at least I don't like to do that. But if we need to do that we will have to work with you and try to design that. In any case as soon as we have something clearer we will let you know. I hope that within a week or so we will be able to give out instructions on accreditation procedures.

Q:On the arrangements for the Loya Jirga and the security at the site, you have ISAF on the outer perimeters and it is only the Afghan National Army on the inner perimeter and some people might say that the national army is under the control of Marshal Fahim, it is obviously not an entirely neutral party in this process coming up. What is the UN's view about the security arrangements.

Spokesman: Security arrangements are being organized jointly by ISAF the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence. They meet regularly, we are part of these meetings and the plans are going very well.

Q: [inaudible] Question on the murder in Ghor Province.

Spokesman: I told you everything I know. I don't have anymore details at this point.

Q: [inaudible]

Spokesman: No, not to my knowledge. I did not get any report indicating that.

Q: I would just like to clarify the name of the man killed in Ghor.

Spokesman: Mohammed Rahim

Q: Was he a member of the Commission?

Spokesman: No, he had been selected in the District Shura that morning.

Q: Is that something that you guys would investigate directly or you send people out to the region?

Spokesman: No, we have people in the region but the responsibility belongs to the authorities to investigate.

Q: Is this the first incident involving the election process?

Spokesman: I am not sure that this involves the election process. I don't know the motivation of this killing. If that were the case, that would be the first involving a death of someone. But I don't know. I want to make it very clear. I don't know the motivation of this murder.

Q: When the results of the investigation do come through, do you reserve the rights to go in and reinvestigate?

Spokesman: I don't think we have the capacity to reinvestigate but I think we can discuss with the authorities, of course, yes.

Q: Is he the first to be killed since the Loya Jirga process began.

Spokesman: That is what I said, yes, someone that has been selected.

Any other questions? If not then thank you very much.