[Thursday 13 March is the Islamic Holiday of Moharran. It is an official holiday in Afghanistan. There will therefore be no press briefing this coming Thursday.]
Armed Robbery in Wardak
Last Friday at approximately 1:00 p.m. three men stopped a World Food Programme (WFP) vehicle at gunpoint at Haft-Asyab - one hour north of Ghazni in Wardak Province. The occupants of the vehicle were all Afghan nationals, two employed by the WFP and one by an NGO.
The three assailants all armed with AK47 rifles bound, blindfolded and pushed the occupants of the WFP vehicle into the back of the car. The gunmen then drove the vehicle to a secluded location, where upon they proceeded to strip it of all radio equipment. In addition, they took a VHF handset, some money, as well as a Thuraya phone. The gunmen then put all the stolen articles into a scarf and left on foot headed towards the mountains.
Some moments after the assailants left, the staff drove to the nearest Afghan military check-post where they filed a verbal report to the Head of security. After that they drove back to Kabul where they arrived in the early evening. Apart from a few scratches none of the three men sustained any injuries that required medical attention. Local authorities are carrying out investigations.
UNDP Works with Ministry of Communication to Return the .AF Domain to Afghanistan
You will find at the table a press release issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This carries a piece of news, which according to Afghanistan's Minister of Information Mohammad Masoom Stanakzai, "is like reclaiming a piece of Afghanistan's sovereignty". He was referring to the fact that tomorrow the Internet domain .af will be totally controlled by Afghanistan. It is the formal activation of Afghanistan's top-level domain, known as TLD, as Internet country codes are known. It masks the culmination of a complex international application process and the parallel development of new telecommunication links, which will enable Afghanistan to put the new .af domain to immediate use. The ceremony formalizing this will take place tomorrow, Monday 10 march at 9:30 a.m. at the Istiqal High School here in Kabul. The Minister of Communication will be there as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Sherzai Abdul Rahim and the UNDP Country Director, Ercan Murat.
Land Dispute in Sholgara Resolved
Now to the North and some information on land disputes and how they are being handled by the local institutions.
A few days ago on 4 March, the Mazar Multi Party Security Commission, at the request of the Governor of Balkh Province (Ishaq Rahguzar) resolved a land dispute over grazing land for livestock in the western part of Sholgara District. As you know all the important factions of the north are integrated in the Commission with participation from UNAMA. This dispute was an ongoing one between nomadic herders of the Qandahari tribe and settled farmers who have lived in the area for the last 100 odd years. These settled people are known locally as the Arabs because this is their origin
According to a resolution reached after the Commission met with local elders, commanders and the governor's representatives, the grazing rights of the Qandaharis will be respected until the end of spring this year. In addition, all Qandahari will be allowed to keep their campsites with the exception of one, which will remain inaccessible to all parties. This is all Government land which people use and we understand that it is local practice in most villages to keep at least one site completely neutral when there are disputes of this type.
The resolution further states that the livestock of both the settled farmers and the Qandaharis will share pastures and water until next year when the local Government is expected to make a final decision. Then, as both sides have farmed on government pastures, Afghan law will be applied in deciding whether their leases are extended or not.
Removal of Troops from Jawzjan
Still on the north and now changing to the movement of troops: last Tuesday 100 troops from the Seventh Army Corp which is Jamiat and 100 from the Eighth Army Corp which is Jumbesh were removed from Nasiri village, in the Faizabad district of Jawzjan Province. This was the result of mediation by the Mazar Security Commission in response to tensions over the illegal taxation of disputed farmland by a local commander and the resulting build up of troops by the two factions.
Last week reports of tensions there, led to the deployment of a Security Commission delegation accompanied by UNAMA. The delegates reached a resolution with the elders and local commanders. According to that resolution no armed people and military posts are allowed in Nasiri. The police of Faizabad have been given the task of maintaining security when necessary.
Security Stepped up in Mazar for upcoming Nawroz Celebrations
Still on the north: in anticipation of the Afghan New Year Celebration - Nawroz, last Thursday the Mazar police as well as members of the VIIth and VIIIth Army Corps deployed an additional 1,600 men to reinforce the current Mazar security arrangements. Additional checkpoints have been established around the Shrine of Ali while limitations have been put on vehicles with black-tinted windows as well as bodyguards.
These decisions follow again a meeting of the Mazar Security Commission, which was held on 1 March, which I believe we told you about. The regional authorities of the North are paying serious attention to the security situation during the forthcoming festive period. The measures are now in place in anticipation of the 250,000 plus visitors who are expected to visit the Shrine of Ali in two weeks time.
Launch of Radio the Voice of Afghan Women
Finally, before I pass you over to UNHCR and UNICEF, I would just like to congratulate the women from Radio the Voice of Afghan Women who launched their station yesterday on 8 March which was International Women's Day. For those of you who did not know, the station is located on FM 96.600 MHz. So again we congratulate them, wish them every success and hope that this station will actively contribute to the advancement of the cause of women in this country.
UNHCR - US$12 Million to Support Aid Projects in Southeast - Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson
UNHCR welcomes an Italian initiative to provide up to US$ 12 million to support aid projects in southeastern Afghanistan -- Paktya, Paktika and Khost. The funding by the Italian Department of Development Cooperation was launched yesterday in Khost, linked to the deployment of the Italian troops there. Present at the ceremony yesterday were Italian Ambassador Domenico Giorgi, Minister of Reconstruction and Rural Development Hanif Atmar and heads of UNDP and UNHCR.
This is a good example of a coordinated initiative, which will focus aid not only directly to the returning Afghans, but also to help develop return communities. The bulk of the funding goes to MRRD and UNDP's Area Based Development Programme implemented by local contractors. The pledged contribution also includes US$ 1 million to WFP, assisting mainly thousands of Kuchi families in the three provinces, and US$ 1.5 million toward UNHCR's shelter, water and income-generating activities in the area.
UNHCR's sub-office in Gardez was set up only in September last year, due to the insecurity in the area. The main place of return in the south-east was Ghazni with 24,500 people returning in 2002 mainly from Iran. But with improved security and focused attention by the aid communities and donors, UNHCR expects over 110,000 Afghan refugees to return to Paktya, Paktika, Ghazni and Khost this year.
In anticipation of the increased returns to the region, UNHCR this year is setting up two additional encashment centers and an Iris scanning facility in the region. We also plan to build over 6,000 housing units, 200 wells, 680 latrines and run income-generation projects, such as the repair of feeder/access roads, rehabilitation of irrigation systems and karezes and support small business projects, paying particular attention to the needs of women.
UNICEF - Afghan School Supply Operation Moves Into Top Gear - Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer
With just two weeks to go before schools in Afghanistan throw open their doors for another full year of education, the Afghan Ministry of Education - supported by UNICEF - is redoubling efforts to ensure that stationery and teaching supplies reach children and teachers in time for the first day of school.
The Ministry of Education Logistics Centre in east Kabul will start producing up to 8,000 pupil stationery kits per day this week, each kit providing basic items such as pens, exercise books, erasers and pencils for 70 children. The Centre, which began operations last summer, is fully owned and managed by the Ministry of Education, with technical support being provided through a partnership with UNICEF. During full-scale packing operations 200 workers, including 40 women, staff nine production lines. UNICEF rehabilitated the former warehouse complex now housing the Logistics Centre at a cost of just US$ 50,000, repairing six buildings and installing washrooms and an on-site mosque.
The stationery kits now being packed will be distributed in coming weeks to schools in central Afghanistan, where pupil and teacher numbers are amongst the highest in the country. Of the 3 million children who returned to school in Afghanistan last year, nearly 1.5 million were in the central provinces. In 2003, UNICEF is procuring classroom materials for a total 4 million primary school children and 50,000 teachers. The supply element alone of the Back to School 2003 campaign is costing an estimated US$ 15 million.
The focus on packing and distribution at the Kabul Logistics Centre is another indication of how the Government of Afghanistan is now taking increasing control of the education programme. Last year, packing was undertaken in Pakistan due to limited capacity in Afghanistan itself. As part of its support to the Ministry of Education, UNICEF is providing guidance on supply management, use of databases and warehouse supervision to Ministry employees at the Logistics Centre to further increase national capacity. UNICEF has also rehabilitated 300 warehouses at provincial and district level to improve the Ministry's ability for handling distribution of school materials at local level.
Interested media are invited to visit the Ministry of Education Logistics Centre on Wednesday 12 March at 10.00 am. Please contact UNICEF for details of how to get to the Centre, which is situated in the industrial complex of Pul-i-Charki.
Questions and Answers
Question: Do you have any comments on the general security situation? Are these armed robberies increasing and if so why?
Spokesman: I think we have seen more recently - haven't we? But I don't think we can draw any conclusions. All I can do is comment on the fact that we have seen more as I just said. I think that any interpretation, however, as to what it means or what the intentions are behind the robberies at this point - as I said at the last briefing - would amount to nothing more than speculation on my part, which I should not do.
If there are no further questions I would just like to mention something we told you about perhaps two or three months ago. Then we said we would be starting a media accreditation process. Well we are about to start this up and I would therefore like to introduce you to Habibullah, our new colleague, who just joined us and who will be dealing with you in a few days time on the question of accreditation.
Thank you very much. Have a very nice afternoon.