Security Council members express concern at course of events in Afghanistan

Security Council members today expressed their "concern" over the situation in Afghanistan and agreed to make an official statement on this issue in a few days.
"Members of the Council discussed thoroughly the overall situation in Afghanistan and expressed their concern at the course of events in that country," said a brief press statement by the Council's current President, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh.

During its closed-door consultations, the Council had heard a series of briefings from senior UN figures involved with Afghanistan, including Francesc Vendrell, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNMSA).

According to a UN spokesman, Mr. Vendrell told the Council that he hoped to strengthen the mission in the coming months, and open offices in Islamabad, Teheran and Kabul. Mr. Vendrell also said that he would try to deepen the dialogue among the "Six plus Two" group, which includes the countries bordering Afghanistan as well as the United States and Russia.

"I think everybody was very supportive of the Secretary-General and of UNMSA," Mr. Vendrell said in his comments to the press after the Council meeting. "I think there is an element of pessimism by members of the Council which I would echo about developments in Afghanistan."

The Council also heard from Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, who warned that the opium harvest in Afghanistan had increased to some 4,600 tons last year -- approximately three-quarters of world production.

Ambassador Arnaldo Manuel Listre of Argentina, who chairs the Council's sanctions committee dealing with Afghanistan, gave a briefing on the panel's recent work, which had included approving flights from Kabul to Saudi Arabia to allow Afghan pilgrims to go to Mecca.

In his most recent report on Afghanistan that has been just released at UN Headquarters, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that although fighting had been confined to specific areas of the country, the "apparent targeting of civilians and their assets has worsened the living conditions of the Afghan population."

"Not only is the fighting likely to continue despite repeated calls for a cease-fire by the Security Council and the General Assembly, but reports indicate that a major offensive in being prepared for the spring," the report warned.