Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 25 Jul 2004

News and Press Release
Originally published
Afghan Women Break 40 Percent Voter Registration Mark

As of 22 July Afghan women broke the 40 percent barrier for voter registration. On that date, of the 7,993,029 who had registered to vote, 41 percent were women or 3,278,520. Men were 59 percent with 4,714,509. As we have been telling you these figures updated to 22 July are incomplete because not all data has come in as yet from all the faraway districts.

Voter Registrations Process Approaches Closure in Afghanistan

We would like to inform the Afghan public through you that the voter registration process in Afghanistan is approaching its closure. As we have been telling you registration sites will open on average for up to three weeks to carry out registration and then relocate elsewhere. But we are now approaching that time when they will close as registration will be winding down by the end of this month. It will, however, continue in some places, as part of the great efforts by the Electoral authorities and its Secretariat to ensure that opportunities are given to those Afghans in areas where there has been under registration.

US$27 Million Received In Bank For Elections With New Contributions

The electoral budget has received a boost of US$5,703,102, which has been received in the bank. This is the result of recent receipts from Finland (US$1,225,490); Canada (US$3,731,343); and Norway (US$746,269), which now bring the total amount received to just over US$27 million. Other prior contributions received include the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden and Netherlands.

Voter Registration Rises Substantially In Helmand

At the last briefing we spoke about concerns related to low voter registration in the south and the measures being taken to address this situation. As a result of actions, particularly in the field of civic education, as well as the involvement of shuras and improved security, we understand that registration figures on 19 and 20 July in Helmand Province - where registration was averaging about 5,000 per day - increased to 13,000 a day. Sites are open in all of Helmand's 13 districts.

Women's Radio Station In Northeast Lends Support To Electoral Awareness

Yesterday, Radio Zohra, a women's radio station in Kunduz, aired an initial six-minute civic education segment on the electoral process. The spot reminded listeners of their right to freely pick a candidate of their own choice and also the need to be aware of those elements that are coercing or trying to trick people into handing over their registration cards. The segment also introduced the joint Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission/UNAMA political rights verification campaign. Particular reference was made to the complaints mechanism that is available to voters who feel their political rights are being violated.

Wardak And Panjshir Hold Roundtables On Political Rights

Tomorrow, Monday 26 July, the first roundtable on Political rights will be held in the Panjshir. This will be run by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA and will introduce the Political Rights Verification Campaign.

On July 22, a similar roundtable took place in Wardak. Essential information and publications on the laws and regulations for the election process, the political party law and media law were distributed and explained to the participants. The Governor, Deputy Chief of Police, heads of Ministerial departments, the Chief Justice, Prosecutor, Mayor and members of shuras as well as political parties all participated. During the session, clarifications were made about the accredited, registered and non-registered parties.

Last week similar roundtables on political rights were held in Parwan and Kapisa provinces.

DDR Prepares For Ghor Province

It seems that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) will expand to Ghor Province, because tomorrow a delegation from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) are flying to Chaghcharan to prepare for the programme there. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the MOD's operational group have already collected 800 weapons from rival factions in the area. Three hundred and thirty-eight have been handed over to ANBP in Heart and the remainder will be transported from Ghor to Heart in the coming weeks. The ANA will continue to collect arms within the region in order to improve overall security in the area.

The MOD and ANBP are also preparing for additional disarmament in Kabul. About 245 soldiers from Kabul's 42nd Regiment have already entered the DDR process. The remaining 230 in the unit would not enter the programme until huge caches of ammunition under their guard were removed and put under secure protection. ANBP has now removed 13 truckloads of ammunition belonging to the 42nd Regiment. It expects to remove another 10 truckloads this week. All this ammunition will come under ANA protection. Once completed the remainder of the 42nd Regiment will enter the DDR programme.

Disarmament continued late last week in Heart with men from the 17th Division; in Jalalabad with soldiers from the 743rd Regiment; and in Kabul with personnel from the 8th Division. To date since the beginning of DDR last fall, 11,770 officers and soldiers of the Afghan Military Forces have now entered the DDR process. A total of 9,760 have begun or are about to begin reintegration activities.

Earthquakes Destroys Homes In Paktya And Heart

Several hundred houses have been destroyed mainly in the three villages of Girda Serai, Waza Zadran and Mita of Paktya Province following an earthquake on 18 July.

Reports indicate two deaths and 40 injured. The main relief item at this time is emergency shelter such as tents. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing 540 tents and 7,000 bed sheets. Two assessments teams comprised of Government representatives, UN agencies, NGOs, and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are currently evaluating the situation to determine the needs of the affected families. This assessment will be completed in the next few days to provide accurate information on the extent of damages.

On 14 July an earthquake in Heart province, damaged 150 houses in Ghorgand village in Gulran district. Fortunately no casualties have been reported. Assistance and delivery of relief items such as food, water, and tents to the 150 affected families are being carried out by the Afghan Red Crescent Society; United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health; World Food Programme (WFP); United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and IOM.

Emergency Assistance Continues To Flood Affected Areas

Emergency assistance continues to be dispatched to flood affected central areas in Logar, Ghazni, Paktia, and Bamyan. In the North, Samangan and Baghlan are among the hardest hit, while in the East, Kunar and Nooristan have suffered extensive damage.

In Badakshan, in addition to relief items delivered to Jurm and Shohada districts, one emergency mobile clinic has also been sent to that area.

In the Khamard District of Bamyan the delivery of relief items continues with great difficulty. The teams are traveling around on donkeys. It takes several days before the relief items get to villages as the roads are blocked. The Ministry of Reconstruction and Rural Development (MRRD) has asked for more blankets and tents. The relief teams are working to respond to these urgent needs.

In Tala wa Barfak district of Baghlan Province, while no casualties reported, the assessments indicate that 1,701 acres of agricultural land and wheat harvest have been devastated.

Afghanistan Accedes To Ozone Treaties

Afghanistan has become the latest member state of the Ozone treaties by signing the accession instrument to the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol on 17 June 2004.

Under the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol, countries are encouraged to monitor the use of chemicals, to undertake measures to protect human health and the environment and to gradually stop the use and production of substances that deplete the ozone layer of the stratosphere. In Afghanistan, discussions are taking place between the Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to find ways to reduce the use of ozone depleting substances in Afghanistan.

Press Release

There is a press release available from the German Embassy, which they asked us to give out. It is on 15 Afghan students in Kabul University's German Department who are traveling to Germany.

UNHCR, Paul Stromberg

Tripartite Commission Meeting

On Wednesday, 21 July, the fifth tripartite commission meeting between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and UNHCR was held in Kabul under the chairmanship of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.

The Pakistani delegation was headed by Shaukat Usman, the Joint Secretary SAFRON, and included the Commissioners for Afghan Refugees in Islamabad, NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province) and Balochistan. Deputy Minister (MoRR) Mohammad Naeem Ghiacy led the Afghan delegation while UNHCR Acting Chief of Mission in Afghanistan and the representative in Pakistan headed the UN refugee agency team.

Participants took note of the deteriorating security situations in the common border areas, in particular the events in South Waziristan, which have led to the return of several thousand Afghan families in the past two months. Recognizing the mutual security concerns and the possibility that military operations will continue in the Tribal Area, the parties nonetheless reiterated their commitment to the voluntary nature of returns to Afghanistan and pledged to ensure safe passage for those opting to repatriate. The parties also agreed to explore viable and timely alternatives, in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement, for those who do not choose to return at present.

The two Governments will increase contacts with refugee leadership to ensure that they are able to make well-informed decisions about return and relocation. It was agreed that Minister Sherpao, of SAFRON, would undertake a visit to address the refugees directly on this issue. Another recommendation from the discussion was that security issues should be addressed through the involvement of other relevant parties, including relevant line Ministries and the Tripartite Commission of Border Security.

Participants noted with satisfaction the improved customs procedures for Afghans returning with personal effects and commercial or business property. Efforts have been made on both sides of the border to simplify the process and allow returnees to bring back a range of items, including farm machinery and carpet weaving equipment.

The parties welcomed the signature between the UN and the two Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the modalities for out of country registration and elections in Pakistan. They acknowledged the importance of Afghan refugee participation. The Government of Pakistan reiterated its commitment and support to facilitate the electoral process. UNHCR pledged to assist UNAMA and the Government of Pakistan in this endeavor.

The Tripartite Commission also reviewed the ongoing effort to enhance voluntary return from the 'new' camps in Pakistan. In order to help boost returns from the post 9/11 border belt camps, UNHCR has dispatched mobile teams with iris recognition equipment to help facilitate returns from the sites, where surveys have shown that most refugees (up to 90 percent in some camps) intend to return to Afghanistan in the coming weeks. Residents receive an enhanced aid package if they choose to return to Afghanistan by the end of August.

The new camps are currently home to around 190,000 individuals in NWFP and Balochistan. Residents of the camps were told in June that all UNHCR assistance, including food provided through the UN World Food Programme - which was not provided to other Afghan refugees in Pakistan - would stop at the end of August. In the past few weeks several hundred families have returned to Afghanistan and the number is expected to rise steadily. UNHCR and the Pakistan government have discussed the relocation of those refugees who remain at the sites after the 1 September date. Transfers will depend on the number of refugees who remain in Pakistan.

Questions and Answers

Question: Do you have any figures on the number of registrants in the South?

Spokesman: Not with me now but we will give you this later.

Question: There were reports about a dispute between [President Hamid] Karzai and [Defence Minister and Vice-President] Fahim and the involvement of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General [Jean Arnault], maybe meeting with Fahim. There are also stories about Fahim being sacked by President Karzai. Is this true?

Spokesman: I do not have any details on the Government negotiations and I can confirm that Mr. Arnault has not met with Marshall Fahim.

Question: It would be interesting to know a little about the registration of Presidential candidates.

Spokesman: It is very interesting but I think you are a little bit early. The deadline for candidates to file their papers is the close of business tomorrow - 26 July. You like me received a statement from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) when they announced the date of elections. They also gave out a calendar that says that 26 July, tomorrow, is the deadline for people who wish to become Presidential candidates to file their nomination papers. A few days after that the JEMB will publish that list. If there is no delay, according to this calendar, that would be Thursday 29 July. Then you have a few days where people can raise questions about the candidates. As a matter of fact I think the JEMB made an announcement on radio and television last night, which I think is also in this morning's edition of Anis newspaper. So 2 August is the date for people to raise claims if they have any. It is also the time when the JEMB will notify candidates if there are any irregularities with their documentation. The candidates will then have few more days until 9 August to correct any such irregularities. After all of this and if there is no delay, the final list of candidates should be published on 10 August.