Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 22 Jan 2004

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
TALKING POINTS
Electoral Process - Over Half a Million Afghans Have Registered to Vote

Half a million Afghans have now registered to vote. The exact figure is: 507,513 (394,998 men and 112,515 women). Also, there was a spike in the number of people registering to vote in Kabul after the high-profile registration of President Karzai on 18 January. The central region now has the highest number of registrants, whereas before this title belonged to Jalalabad.

Yesterday in Mazar, 500 women marched through the centre of the city in a show of support for voter registration. Mrs. Nafeesa Ghyasi, a well-known local personality who hosts a television programme for women, called for women to meet at Hashim-i-Barat High School, and then in coordination with the UNAMA's Civic Education team, the women walked through Mazar to the registration site at Baktash School. The women were registered and then received the new civic education posters that encourage women's participation.

Since the last briefing, there have been questions on what precautions are being taken to prevent multiple registration. This is an issue that the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) and UNAMA take very seriously. It is considered an electoral fraud to register more than once and the JEMB and the authorities are now in the process of discussing a regulation on multiple registration which if violated could lead to financial penalties or imprisonment. Once this regulation has been finalized, the JEMB will make the appropriate announcement.

On Election Day there will be procedures in place to prevent people from being able to vote more than once, such as marking fingers with indelible ink. UNAMA's electoral unit is working on civic education material that will address this issue. One of the next leaflets to be spread to people through the civic education teams states that "the registration regulation calls you to register just once because you can only vote once in the 2004 general elections. Be honest to your country and to yourself."

Former Soldiers Give Registration Example

In Kunduz, 161 former soldiers attended sessions on civic education where they received handouts on voter registration. Seventy-six of the former soldiers immediately took advantage of the opportunity and registered for the elections. The rest had already registered at local registration sites.

In Kabul 206 soldiers of the 10th Battalion were disarmed yesterday in a two-day exercise that is expected to end today. Four hundred soldiers of the 10th Battalion were verified to enter the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) process, and the remaining 194 should be processed today. Meanwhile 50 ex-soldiers from the 340th Battalion successfully completed the demobilization process yesterday at the central office of the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) on Jalalabad Road. One ex-combatant was identified as a minor and was referred to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Reconstruction of Justice Premises Gathers Momentum

Reconstruction of the badly damaged Ministry of Justice (MOJ) headquarters began last Saturday in Kabul. This is a part of the support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to the justice sector through the US$4.7 million "Rebuilding Justice Project". Under this project rehabilitation of the office of the Attorney-General in Kabul will also start soon.

As you are aware the Bonn Agreement calls for the reform, rehabilitation and strengthening of the Afghan Justice system, which includes reconstruction and refurbishment of infrastructure. The Rebuilding Justice Project was launched over a year ago by the Afghan Government with support from UNDP and funding from Italy, which is the lead nation on reform of the Afghan justice sector, Canada and the United Kingdom. We have a UNDP press release available with more details of the Rebuilding Justice Project.

The Ministry and the Attorney-General's building will join the Kabul Public Court that opened last September following the completion of rehabilitation work by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Next week, USAID plans to start construction on two district court offices and renovate one appeal court in the Arghandab and Dand districts of Kandahar. This is in addition to completed renovation of the Balkh Appeals Court in Mazar-i-Sharif as well as the Gardez Appeals Courts. Rehabilitation of courts in Bamyan, Herat and Nangarhar are also part of this project.

FAO to Fully Integrate Operations with Two Key Afghan Ministries

By the beginning of March, the country office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Kabul will relocate to the newly renovated building of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (MAAH). By doing this, the UN agency will fully integrate itself into the Ministry's day-to-day operations and also be able to provide more enhanced capacity building to Ministry staff. Last January a US$260,000 project funded by the United Kingdom and FAO began in Kabul and resulted in the complete renovation of the MAAH.

Last Thursday, 15 January, the Governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, and the Programme Manager of FAO laid the cornerstone to start construction of a new building for the Department of Agriculture in Herat. Following the renovation of the MAAH in Kabul, the Herat construction is one of 13 other planned nationwide projects that will either renovate or construct buildings for departments the MAAH and the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. Similar work has already begun in Jalalabad, Kandahar and is about to begin in Bamyan.

These 13 additional projects, worth US$500,000, are being funded by the Netherlands, and will also construct or renovate departments in Farah, Badghis, Ghor, Ghazni, Kunduz, Baghlan, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Faizabad. Once they are finished, FAO will relocate their operations into the departments as the agency continues with its drive to integrate fully into operations of both ministries and help to build capacity.

UNHCR's First "Go-and-Talk" Team Heads to Iran

A go-and-talk team of senior Afghan officials from Bamyan Province and UNHCR plans to travel to Iran on Friday on a week-long mission to meet with refugees and explain what conditions are really like in central Afghanistan.

This is the first of several go-and-talk visits expected to travel to Iran under an agreement reached by Iranian and Afghan officials at a meeting last year hosted by UNHCR in Geneva. The parties believe that visits by regional officials will help give Afghan refugee communities a better sense of the daily reality in their homeland.

There are more than 110,000 Afghans from Bamyan Province currently living in Iran, roughly ten percent of the country's registered Afghan refugee population. Since early 2002, more than 30,000 Afghans have returned to Bamyan Province with the help of the UN refugee agency.

Second convoy of returnees from Bam

A second convoy carrying some 300 Afghans who survived the devastating earthquake in Bam last December arrived today back in Afghanistan. The convoy of nine buses and five trucks/trailers left the destroyed eastern Iranian city last evening, arriving back in Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border.

Among today's returnees are two families headed by women who lost their husbands in the quake. Six children from one family who lost both their parents are returning with a grandmother. Many other families among today's returnees also lost loved ones in the massive earthquake.

Most of the returning refugees are expected to reach Kabul on Friday as they head towards their home areas in Parwan and Balkh provinces. Others will return to their home communities in Herat Province.

For those of you who would like more details, there is a UNHCR press release on the side table.

Police to Confiscate Weapons Carried on the Streets of Balk

In Balk Province after 24 January anyone who is found on the streets with a gun and without a proper registration card for it will have that weapon confiscated by the police. This is a measure taken by the Security Commission of the north to reduce the numbers of armed people in the province. Some two months ago the Commission agreed that legitimate carriers weapons must have those weapons registered and be issued with a photo ID card that allows them to carry their weapons publicly. The Security Commission decided that legitimate carriers of weapons in the public consist of the police, a certain number of bodyguards of the factional leaders, political advisors as well as traders.

The process was initiated two months ago. Registration began there weeks ago and is scheduled to finish on Saturday after which time the efforts to reduce weapons in the street will begin with police patrolling and confiscating non-registered weapons.

Humanitarian Assistance Continues for Flood Victims in Herat

Following last Thursday's heavy flooding in Gozurat district, Herat province, UNAMA organized a meeting of the combined disaster management team including representatives from Government Ministries, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The team dispatched a mission to the affected villages and although there were no human casualties, 250 houses were partially destroyed and over 850 hectares of cultivated land was left under water.

Humanitarian assistance is now being supplied to the affected families. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) transported non-food items to the area. This included 500 kitchen utensils, 200 tents and 2,000 blankets, donated by International Federation of the Red Crescent, as well as 500 jerry cans donated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) -- Holland. In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) has sent one-month food rations for 500 families. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has pledged to provide seeds and will work on re-enforcement of the Gozurat canal, while the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has earmarked US $50,000 for rehabilitation efforts.

UNAMA is coordinating all the activities of the different agencies involved in the emergency operation. Members of the disaster management team will continue to monitor the situation. To view recent pictures of the flood damage in Gozurat, please visit our website at www.unama-afg.org.

MOPH and WHO Confirm That There Are No Cases of Whooping Cough in Badakshan

UNAMA has been in touch with the World health Organization (WHO) in Faizabad regarding the reported outbreak of whooping cough in Badakhshan and the issue was also raised at the Health Sector meeting. WHO and DoPH investigated the reported 12-15 deaths and determined that they were due to acute respiratory infection not whooping cough. WHO confirmed the availability of medical teams and medical supplies in those areas and assured that any outbreak could be contained by sub clinics in the area.

Following new reports of whooping cough in the Sharak district of Ghor province, UNAMA has organized air support via helicopter for a WHO assessment mission this Sunday. The team will off-load in Sharah to do a three-day assessment and will then be picked up by the same helicopter. The helicopter was deemed necessary due to heavy snows that were impeding the mission from reaching the area by road. We will keep you informed on the results of this assessment.

Salang Tunnel Reopens

The Salang Road and Tunnel are now open in both directions for small vehicles following the heavy snow and avalanches of 15-16 January, which forced a temporary closure of the route.

According to a new schedule, issued by the Ministry of Public Works, which is now in effect until further notice, small passenger vehicles can use the tunnel in both directions without any time schedule limitation after being checked at the traffic gates. Trucks (max. height 4.50m) are allowed on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from North to South only and on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays from South to North only. Trailers, however, are not permitted during the winter. Vehicles containing flammable materials such as petrol, diesel, liquid gas or explosive materials cannot use the tunnel during daytime.

Live Firing Exercise

And finally, just to inform you that a live firing exercise of large calibre weapons by the 88th Artillery Brigade of the Afghan Militia Forces Force began today at 8:30 a.m. on a military range to the east of Kabul. The exercise will continue until 6:00 p.m. today. If you do hear loud noises, it is only a controlled firing exercise of 122 mm and 107 mm rockets. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is overseeing the process.

WFP, Maarten Roest, Information Officer

WFP Provides Emergency Assistance in Kabul

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has mounted a small-scale operation to provide emergency food assistance to some 2,000 people in the Afghan capital Kabul. The operation is aimed at extremely vulnerable households in Kabul's districts 3, 8 and 9.

322 households have been identified, some 2,000 people, who need food assistance to get them through the winter. They will receive a one time family ration for three months, consisting of wheat, pulses, salt, oil and sugar, Unimix and dates.

Most of these people are refugees that have come back from Pakistan and Iran and are now living in dire conditions, in the ruins around the power department, in Macroyan (district 9) or the Russian cultural centre (district 3).

The operation currently implemented in the capital is part of the overall winterization programme conducted by WFP's Kabul Area Office to assist some 238,000 vulnerable people in inaccessible regions of Jalalabad and Bamyan during the harsh winter with 13,370 MT of different commodities.

Just as last year, WFP has pre-positioned food stocks across the country to help vulnerable households in rural areas. For the winter 2003-2004, 29,000 MT of food assistance has been dispatched to assist 612,000 people living in 49 districts of 14 provinces.

Distribution in Kabul is scheduled to start this week. Meanwhile, WFP VAM Unit is continuing to survey other districts. Based on the survey results further assistance to vulnerable families will be considered.

WFP Thanks its Donors

With its relief and recovery operation funded at around 36%, WFP is particularly thankful for the generous donations it has received over the last weeks.

The United States' latest donation of US$ 12,459,300 in kind will enable WFP to provide wheat and vegetable oil to various relief and recovery activities. Dates, a part of Saudi Arabia's donation of US$ 1.052,599, will be used for the emergency assistance in Kabul and to IDPs in camps, among others. With a Danish donation of US$ 877,193, WFP will purchase different food commodities for distribution among extremely vulnerable Afghans, who are still struggling to survive and rebuild their lives.

A Swiss donation of US$ 384,616 will allow WFP to assist the Government in the analysis of the results of the National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment. These results will be of pivotal importance to help Ministries, UN agencies and NGOs in making decisions in preparation of their plans for the upcoming year.

The Canadian Micronutrient Initiative donated US$ 315,080 for fortification of wheat flour in Afghanistan, essential to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable Afghans. Lastly, WFP would like to thank the Japan WFP Friendship Association for its donation of US$18,348 that will be used for our school feeding activities.

WFP solely depends on voluntary donations to fund its operations. Despite an improved economic situation and this years' excellent harvest, many Afghan's still need food assistance and WFP still needs the international community to support us in making a crucial difference helping those vulnerable Afghan populations on the way to recovery.

Questions and Answers

Q: Looking at the figures for voter registration in Kandahar, it seems that they are much lower than elsewhere, especially for women. Why is this?

Spokesman: This is a matter of concern and of course it has to do with security and it has to do with the availability of registration sites. You may remember a couple weeks ago I said that one of the attempts was to try to avoid using schools that were in session. In the beginning there were schools that were not in session in Kandahar which have started again so the Government authorities along with the JEMB and UNAMA's electoral component are looking into opening alternative sites, in Kandahar and in other places as well. It is very nice to have half a million people registered but this figure is still far from the total estimated number of Afghans who are eligible to register as voters.

Q: Have you heard any reports of intimidation?

Spokesman: No, I haven't heard anything on that.

Q: Are the preparations that are underway for elections for presidential elections or parliamentary elections or both? The European Union delegation that was here last week said it was essential that both elections be held at the same time. What is the plan now? Any changes to the paper that was distributed at the Constitutional Loya Jirga? Also, some Afghans in Kabul are saying that they have to travel a long distance to register and that there are not enough sites, what is the reason for this? Are there plans for more sites?

Spokesman: First a clarification. The paper that was distributed at the Loya Jirga was done at the request of the CLJ Bureau in order to provide some technical facts on what it means to hold presidential and parliamentary elections. That does not mean that there is a decision. What we have is the Constitution itself, which says that all efforts must be taken for both elections to take place at the same time and that is what we are working on.

There are, as I mentioned before to you, some constraints to hold presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time. They both have different requirements. For instance, to hold a parliamentary election, you need to know exactly the number of districts that you have in the country because that will presumably be what will determine the composition of the members of a national assembly. Afghanistan does not have that at this point. This is something that I know the authorities are looking into.

So this is one example of one of the constraints. If you were to have just a presidential election, you wouldn't need that because it is one single national constituency. Nevertheless, the important point here is that UNAMA, the JEMB, and the Government authorities are all looking into these situations to review plans in order to respond to realities on the ground and at the same time be able to meet, as close as possible, the objective as determined by the Constitution which is [to make all efforts] to have both elections at the same time.

Q: And the registration sites in Kabul?

Spokesman: That is the same answer that I gave before regarding Kandahar. There is a need to expand the number of registration sites. As you know, the plan for voter registration has been designed along three phases. Phase I was to be only these eight areas. Phase II, which is planned for later next month, is to expand into the provinces and then further down the road, to rural areas. Of course to do this you have security implications and you also have weather conditions in some areas, which makes it impossible for these things to happen, so you have to wait for winter to end to access some areas. These are the kinds of things that people are discussing. Indeed one of the key issues is identification of sites. There is also the problem of places that are suitable for people to go and register. There are not a lot of places available and this is a question of the infrastructure of the country and having buildings that can be adapted into registration sites.

Q: Do you have any comment on the Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers who are in Kabul?

Spokesman: We would have to check with UNHCR. I am not familiar with this and it was not brought to our attention so I recommend that you speak with them.

[After the briefing, the Spokesman sought information from UNHCR and the following was sent in reply:

On January 15, 2004, UNHCR communicated its decision to terminate its project, with the Afghan Commission for Human Rights (ACHR), through which it was managing two accommodation centres for asylum-seeker families and individuals. All of the individuals come from several countries in the Gulf region. The majority of the asylum-seekers have been rejected on first instance or appeal, and are either waiting appeal interviews or appeal decisions. There is only one recognized refugee among the residents in the housing centre.

The intention of the project was to provide a total of 30 persons with centralized housing, medical assistance, food and transportation allowance pending the finalization of the refugee status determination procedure.

After a careful and continuous monitoring of the project for the past three months, UNHCR has concluded that the terms of the Mutual Agreement between UNHCR and ACHR have not been respected, particularly since UNHCR had serious concerns regarding the weak management capacity of ACHR.

In addition to terminating this specific project, UNHCR has regrettably taken the decision, not to continue to provide centralized housing facilities for the 15 single men among this caseload, given the numerous incidents of violence that have taken place between them. As for the refugee and asylum seeking families, UNHCR intends to continue to provide centralized housing facilities for the families, in order not to jeopardize the situation of minor children.

Despite this, UNHCR will nevertheless issue them with the high monthly allowance that they used to get prior to the establishment of the Centre. This amount is substantively higher than what an average Afghan citizen makes. UNHCR will also continue to exercise its mandate of protection vis-à-vis this caseload, pending the finalization of their refugee status determination procedures.

This future arrangement was communicated to the asylum-seekers on January 18, 2004.

UNHCR has briefed its counterpart for asylum-seekers and refugees on this issue on January 21, 2004. The MFA will discuss this issue with the Ministry of Interior, and the branches of the security, in order to explore ways of assisting the asylum-seekers further. UNHCR and UNAMA will also be meeting on Friday, January 23, 2004 to discuss the latest developments on their situation.]

Q: The Constitution allows for dual citizenship. Is there any specification for those people who wish to vote from abroad?

Spokesman: Yes, the JEMB is working with the Government of Afghanistan on people who are abroad, particularly Pakistan and Iran where you have so many Afghans, to register. I don't think there is anything finalized yet and I am sure that once there is something finalized, they will be making an announcement. But that is indeed something that is moving.

Q: I recently visited a voter registration site in Kabul and there was no JEMB presence anywhere. It seemed much more like UNAMA was running it. What is the role of the JEMB? Are they just supposed to be observers?

Spokesman: The members of the JEMB are senior officials and you wouldn't see UNAMA people who are at the same level as the JEMB at the sites either. They have a different level of responsibility. JEMB is policy, overview and guidance. What you see happening at the voter registration sites is as a result of the guidance that comes from the JEMB.