Afghanistan + 1 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 05 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (excluding questions and answers session).

** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre

Good afternoon. Before I start, I would like to announce that - as of tomorrow - we will advance the time of our briefing to 2:45 pm. As you know, there was a scheduling conflict with the Coalition Information Centre (CIC) and they were kind enough to change the time of their briefing to 3:30 pm, so it is only natural that we return the favour and move by fifteen minutes. This will make it possible for journalists to attend all three briefings if they wish: the Foreign Office briefing at 2:00 pm, our briefing at 2:45 pm, and the CIC briefing at 3:30 pm.

After nine days of discussions, the UN Talks in Bonn resulted about an hour ago (at 2:05 pm Islamabad Time) in the signature of an agreement on a provisional arrangement in Afghanistan pending the re-establishment of permanent government Institutions.

The leaders of the four Afghan groups represented at the talks signed the text, in the presence of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, as the witness. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had come especially from Berlin with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for the signature of the document, and Mr. Vendrell was also present. All participants signed it after their leaders.

The final text of the agreement will be made available to you at the end of the briefing, and you can read all the details there. It outlines the functions and responsibilities of the Interim Authority, which will be chaired by Mr. Hamid Karzai and include 28 other members who will direct the work of as many departments. The Interim Authority, to be officially established on 22 December, would run the country for six months. An Independent Commission would in parallel work on convening a Loya Jirga.

Speaking after the signature of the agreement, Mr. Brahimi congratulated all participants and the spirit of compromise that they have shown. He said that today's accord provides some "breathing space", during which the people of Afghanistan can take "the many steps" that will be necessary towards a broad-based, multi-ethnic environment.

On behalf of the Secretary-General, the Special Representative also underlined that "all the elements in the Agreement were proposed by Afghans, either here in Bonn or in Afghanistan, and Iran and Pakistan". He also stressed that the commitment of the international community to help and assist is "very strong, perhaps unprecedented".

Mr. Brahimi is now expected to travel to Berlin tomorrow, to attend a donor conference on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The two-day meeting is organized under the auspices of the 16-member Afghanistan Support Group, which brings together major donor nations. Other Un officials in attendance include: the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Kenzo Oshima; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers; and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, who has been named to lead early recovery efforts for Afghanistan. From Islamabad, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mr. Mike Sackett and other Heads of UN Agencies will also attend.

Please note in the agreement signed today the mention of a Department of Women's' Affairs. As you know, the equitable representation of women in government and civilian life in Afghanistan is a strong focus of the UN. Yesterday, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Ms. Angela King, read a message of Mr. Kofi Annan during the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy currently being held in Brussels.

In the message, the Secretary-General stated: "You have come together to recall the plight of Afghan women - a plight that for several years has been an affront to all standards of dignity, equality and humanity (...) You have come together to reassert the rights of Afghan women - the right to participate actively in all sectors and levels of society and in all stages of the work to bring peace and development to your country. In that mission, you have the full and unstinting support of the United Nations."

The full text of this statement is being made available to you as a press release.

** Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson for UNHCR

Yesterday evening, UNHCR staff was ambushed by unknown gunmen as they were returning to Peshawar. Three gunmen tried to stop UNHCR's two vehicles, one vehicle took three shots, but with considerable luck, no one was injured.

The incident happened around 4:30pm, as 6 staff members were returning to Peshawar after escorting a convoy of Afghan refugees to UNHCR's newly established Kotkai camp. Soon after they came out of Mohmand Agency, approaching Peshawar, three men began firing rifles at the first vehicle from the side of the road. While the first UN vehicle stopped and began to reverse, the second vehicle could not stop and overtook the first one and sped past the gunmen. This vehicle took at least three shots, but made it around a corner, where it came across a police patrol on the road. The first vehicle, which had stopped, reversed and went back to a roadside petrol station.

UNHCR has postponed the relocation convoy of refugees from Jalozai to Kotkai scheduled for today. While police is investigating the incident, we are meeting with the authorities today to decide how best to proceed. Nearly 6,000 refugees had been relocated from Jalozai to Kotkai.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Mr. Kamel Morjane, is visiting the region this week. He is arriving tomorrow in Islamabad, and will proceed to Kabul on Friday. One of Mr. Morjane's responsibilities is to oversee UNHCR's assistance operations worldwide. He will be accompanied by Mr. Pierre-Francois Pirlot, who heads the Task Force for Afghan operations at Geneva Headquarters.

While in Islamabad, he is expected to meet with Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas and States & Frontier Regions, Mr. Abbas Sarfraz Khan, as well as high officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry.

We plan to hold a press opportunity with the Assistant High Commissioner here in Islamabad, upon his return from Afghanistan around 6:30pm Saturday. We will issue a media advisory for this shortly.

UNHCR's senior field coordinator in Herat joined yesterday a UN inter-agency assessment mission to Maslak camp, west of Herat, where thousands of displaced people have arrived in the past weeks in search for assistance. The mission also brought in tents, blankets, mattresses and plastic sheeting to respond to the immediate needs and at least to ensure that everyone has shelter.

The staff reported that the situation in the camps was chaotic, and there is a need to improve water and sanitation, amongst others. UNHCR has been requested by other agencies to set up a registration system so that aid distribution can be done effectively for these people.

We hope to resume aid distribution around Herat in the coming days. Conditions permitting, we also hope to re-open our field offices at the border town of Islam Qala west of Herat, and also our office further south in Farah Province, which had been looted.

UNHCR continues to stockpile in countries around Afghanistan, to send in aid as soon as security allows. Another 2,000 tents have been airlifted from Lahore, Pakistan to Mashad on Friday.

In the northeast, UNHCR convoy successfully crossed the border from Farkhar, Tajikistan into Afghanistan last week. It carried non-food items for 125 internally displaced families living in the open in Qum Qishloq Camp in Takhar Province.

Our presence in Afghanistan is gradually expanding. We will have 13 internationals by the end of this week, 9 in Kabul and 4 in Herat.

** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Good afternoon. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)-Afghanistan Country Office Representative, Eric Laroche, will be in Herat today and tomorrow. He's there to get a closer look at the conditions children are facing in the region, and to make sure that the children and their families have enough help available to endure the season of hardship that is the Afghan winter.

I'd like to talk in some detail today about UNICEF activities in Herat, particularly those activities aiming to help Afghans who've had to leave their homes in search of safety.

In Herat, as elsewhere, our immediate concern is making sure children survive the winter. Herat is where, according to anecdotal reports UNICEF received last winter, a number of young children, living in a camp for displaced Afghans, succumbed to the harsh elements.

We heard, for example, that young mothers there were going to bed afraid that their babies might not make it through the night. And if the recent media report about child deaths in one of Herat's IDP camps is any indication, the nightmare could be returning. UNICEF, as part of the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan, has been working to minimize just this kind of situation.

There's no question about it. Winter in many parts of Afghanistan is harsh. And winter in many parts of Afghanistan kills children, if there's not enough aid to fight the combined threats of cold, hunger and disease.

With that in mind, the UNICEF sub-office in Herat will conduct a training course on Acute Respiratory Infection, this coming Saturday to next Thursday, for 40 health workers from NGOs that are active in the IDP camps.

A UNICEF-supported emergency vaccination drive against measles, which surges in winter, is scheduled to cover some 390,000 children in 22 districts of the Western Region for a month's time from 20 December.

The head of our Herat sub-office, an international staff member who returned to Herat this past weekend, for the first time since the events of September, also reports on heightened efforts to deliver and distribute winter emergency aid to the IDP camps.

Around 10,000 children-size sweaters and 7,000 mattresses arrived in Herat from Mashad, Iran a few days ago. And some 17,000 blankets, emergency health kits and high-protein biscuits will be arriving this week. These items are about ensuring the immediate survival of children and women during the winter months.

There's the other part of the equation - as highlighted by UNICEF Executive Director Ms. Carol Bellamy during her latest visit to the region - and that's longer-term outlook, of which universal education is a key component. UNICEF is currently studying the need for repairs on available schooling facilities in the city. Our goal is that with basic repairs done, a school for girls can be opened by the end of this week or early next.

Looking ahead to the month's end, we hope the number of schools for girls in Herat will have grown to four. We anticipate there will be updates from Herat, during and after the Representative's mission, and I hope to share these with you as soon as possible. Thank you.

** Lindsey Davies, Spokesperson for WFP

Food airlifts from Kulyab in Tajikistan to Faizabad in Afghanistan have been disrupted due to bad weather. No food aid flights have happened for several days, fortunately the weather cleared this morning and we resumed flights.

The airlift which started in the last week of November, was set up to bolster the existing truck deliveries in a bid to bring sufficient quantities of urgently needed food aid to 274,000 people living in the north east of the country.

The plan is to airlift about 2,000 tonnes of food into Faizabad over the coming weeks, so far about one tenth of this has been airlifted. The airlift will continue until the total amount has been delivered.

Bad weather and snow is starting to affect truck deliveries into the rural areas of northeast province, as trucks are finding it difficult to get through on some routes.

WFP has a fleet of 300 heavy-duty trucks deployed by Emercom (contracted from Russian government supported by British government) plus tens of local trucks operating on the roads, which are still passable.

We need to push in about 16,000 tonnes before the end of the year, so far about half has been delivered so far. We hope that the weather shifts, melting the snow and allowing the operation to continue at its full speed.

More on winter and where we're at with the Avalanche Control Unit. Things are moving forward; today the three-person team took receipt of their snow equipment, survival gear, portable altitude chambers (big sleeping bags with a zip right around into which you can pump air and lower the atmospheric pressure), skis and snowmobiles from Pakistani customs.

The team will take a couple of days to get their gear in order and then they will move into Faizabad, hopefully by the weekend.

Today a record amount of trucks were despatched from Peshawar for the Central Highlands. A total of 73 trucks carrying 2,303 tonnes of wheat is enroute as we speak.

If we keep up this rate then we will be able to complete despatches of the required 33,000 tonnes for 1 million people who live in the Central Highlands within the next 7 days.

Elsewhere, there have been media reports about the needs of people in Ghor Province in the central/western region of the country. FP estimates about 436,000 people need food assistance in this area, that's about 21,800 tons of food for 6 months.

The delivery of food here has posed a major challenge to WFP in the past weeks. Due to insecurity and its remoteness, transporters were reluctant to travel there, in addition, WFP attempts to supply Ghor through the southern corridor from Pakistan have been thwarted due to heavy insecurity in and around Kandahar.

Despite these difficulties, WFP has delivered almost half of the amount needed and will continue to give extremely high priority to truck movements into this province by despatching food both directly from its warehouses in Herat and across the border from Turkmenabad.

** Stephanie Bunker, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Co-ordinator for Afghanistan

As you know, the Office of the United Nations Co-ordinator for Afghanistan has developed a 30-Day Emergency Operational Plan for Afghanistan (15 November - 15 December 2001). An interim review issued early this week reiterates that the ability of the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan continues to be hamstrung by insufficient accessibility and overall insecurity, which impedes access. Another constraint is the provision of resources, which of late has somewhat improved.

With snow arriving in some parts of Afghanistan, physical accessibility is diminishing. The combined estimated upper limits of populations in the areas likely to be affected by weather could reach several million people by the middle of December. Provinces in the northeast, west, and centre will be seriously affected by winter weather. These are some of the areas worst affected by drought and conflict; people here are also among the neediest.

The United Nations and its partners have taken steps to continue providing humanitarian assistance even to those areas where accessibility will be limited during the winter months. These include: getting supplies into affected areas and making distributions to last through the winter months; importing snow removal equipment and avalanche teams; repairing roads, bridges and airports; and continued use of traditional transport resources (e.g. horses and donkeys) as well as airlifting supplies to reach particularly difficult areas.

However, insecurity remains the single most serious hurdle affecting normal delivery of humanitarian assistance. Except for some areas in the northeastern region, Kabul City, and the city of Herat and two land routes from Iran and Turkmenistan, most provinces in Afghanistan continue to remain largely inaccessible to UN international staff. The entire eastern and southern regions and parts of the north have been sporadically difficult or impossible to reach.

One obvious reason for lack of access is the continued bombardment by the US-led coalition that is happening in the south. In some areas, presence of Taliban fighters and factional infighting have contributed to insecurity. Looting and banditry continue to pose a threat in some areas, and in some cases, obstructions are being caused by local authorities. In Mazar, for example, the situation remains volatile, and we are concerned about increasing reports of looting and kidnapping which seems to target Tajik and Pasthun minorities. Several disappearances have also been reported. Armed robberies are also on the increase.

Similarly, reports from Kunduz say one of the two offices of an international aid organization seized by Northern Alliance troops has still not been returned to the agency despite reassurances from the authorities to return it by 3 December. Both offices were converted into military installations.

While aid dispatches over the past two weeks may have broadly met the targets for Afghanistan, the aid has not necessarily reached all the people who need it most. For example, much of the north and the entire southern region have not received food deliveries over the past two weeks because of the security situation. If this situation continues and the war is protracted, suffering will continue, displacement may increase, and in many cases, people will die.

That concludes my briefing for today. I would like to draw your attention to an administrative matter now, with a note of caution to those travelling to and from Afghanistan. All passengers travelling to and from Afghanistan on UNOCHA flights are reminded that they can carry no firearms, no antiquities, no other illegal articles, and no excess luggage --unless authorised upon payment. UN Flight Operations personnel will henceforth conduct random luggage searches, and reserves the right to ban individuals.

Meanwhile, one-way fare to and from Bagram has been reduced from $2,500 to $1,200 due to reductions in insurance premiums. Flights to Herat will resume soon and we hope that media representatives will be able to travel beginning around the middle of next week.