The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing at the United Nations Information Centre in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (excluding question and answer session).
** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre
Good afternoon. As you know, the first session of the Special Independent Commission for the convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga met on 29 January in Kabul, marking another landmark in the implementation of the Bonn Agreement. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Brahimi, was present.
The 21-member Commission will have the final authority to determine the procedures for the Emergency Loya Jirga, which is to be convened by 22 June. That meeting would decide on a Transitional Authority to lead Afghanistan until such time as a fully representative government can be elected.
In another development, Mr. Hamid Karzai, the Chairman of the Interim Authority was in New York yesterday. At UN Headquarters, he briefed Security Council members on the political transition process under way and presented his vision for what he called a prosperous, secure and peaceful Afghanistan. He noted that security is a main concern, but that the creation of a national police force and a national army would require some time. The interim leader then requested the extension of the presence of the multinational force in Kabul and the expansion of their presence to other major cities.
Extending a "hand of friendship" to countries bordering Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai also said: "We are not prisoners of the past, but interested in living peacefully with our neighbors."
For his part, Mr. Anil Kumarsingh Gayan, Foreign Minister of Mauritius, who presided over the Council meeting, read a statement on behalf of all Council members. He extended a warm welcome to the new Afghan leader and voiced the "unqualified and unreserved support" of the Security Council to his quest for peace, justice and stability in Afghanistan.
Welcoming recent donor pledges to Afghanistan, the Council emphasized the importance of rapid disbursement of assistance and good coordination in its delivery. It also stressed that the reconciliation and reconstruction of Afghanistan should not be derailed by any outside pressure or intervention. He said: "We appeal to the international community to continue extending their valuable support to the Afghanistan Interim Authority to take the country away from the legacy of war, poverty and instability."
We have a detailed report of the Security Council meeting available for you on the documents counter. As mentioned on Monday, we are also distributing a biographical note for Mr. Nigel Fisher, the newly-appointed Deputy Special Representative, as well as a press release on the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which met yesterday to express solidarity with Afghan women and is expected to adopt a formal statement soon.
I've been a bit long, but I wanted to update you on the most important developments of the past three days.
** Ariana Yaftali, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan
Just to add one more development, you know that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, on Tuesday called for a tribunal to determine the status of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters being detained at a U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Dr. Kamal Hossain expressed concern over the treatment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda prinsor in Cuba, as well as some 3,000 to 3,500 prisoners being held in Shebarghan prison in northern Afghanistan. "We have underlined the need for the interim (Afghan) administration to see that their treatment of prisoners is in accordance with international humanitarian law, and respects and treats prisoners humanely,' Hossain said. He hopes to return to Afghanistan next month to look into issues including treatment of thousands of prisoners in Afghan jails.
In the Southern Region of Afghanistan, the security situation is slightly improving. The central interim administration released the salaries for the central police in Kandahar. The region is accessible from Pakistan as well as from Iran through all key-crossing points. The highway from Kandahar to Dilaram is considered to be safe for daylight travel. However, insecurity problems on the highway from Dilaram to Herat continue. The road between Kandahar and Kabul is not recommended for evening travel.
During the past two weeks, the UN Regional Coordinator for Southern Afghanistan has held individual meetings with all technical department heads of the new interim administration together with relevant heads of UN agencies.
It is worth mentioning that in December, the Kandahar power authority received around US $ 30,000 from the city electricity users. Hence, it was one of few departments able to pay salaries.
UNICEF has deployed 4 teams to conduct a survey of students, schools and teachers for its forthcoming 'Back to school' campaign. The survey teams already have identified 31,000 primary school children in some districts of Kandahar province. Both girls and boys have access to education in Kandahar province.
A recent Ministry of Education and UNICEF assessment of primary school enrollment in Kandahar City revealed that 5,000 girls and 20,000 boys and have access to and have enrolled in schools. Today, the demand for primary education is greater than what the current educational institutions can provide; hence urgent rehabilitation of educational facilities is required as well as training and upgrading of teachers and provision of educational supplies is necessary.
The Kandahar Nursing School has resumed operations and is now holding mid-term examinations for 1st and 3rd semester students (approximately 100 boys and 100 girls).
The return of NGOs to southern Afghanistan has started gradually. There is a great demand for more NGOs in the region to address the immediate needs of vulnerable families in Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul, and Kandahar provinces.
In the water sector, UNCHS Habitat will install 20 hand pumps in districts 5 and 6 of Kandahar City. UNHCR with its implementing partner DACAAR,NGO has completed the drilling and installation of 38 hand pumps in Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, and Nimroz Provinces.
And now an update on the displacement situation.
An assessment has taken place of drought IDPs in Faizabad and Baharak. It appears that these are mostly seasonal migrants and that they will return to their areas of origin in the spring and that they are not especially vulnerable. The original policy of assistance in areas of origin will be maintained.
Assisted return movements - which provide transportation, food and non-food items - of conflict-related IDPs to Takhar province continues. It is expected that by spring all conflict-related IDPs in Badakhshan who want to return home will have done so.
In the west, IDPs continue to arrive in Maslak camp, at a reduced rate (last week 414 families, half the rate of the previous week), The majority of last week's arrivals continue to come from Badghis province. Maslak camp will be closed for new arrivals shortly and another camp will be opened. Widespread distributions of non-food items and food are ongoing in both the camps and food-insecure areas (over 18,000 MT in the four western provinces since the start of January).
Assessments are underway in Badghis in connection with an IDP repatriation programme, and transit facilities, office premises, logistics, are being established.
IDP repatriation to Shamali is in full flow, with a total of 8,166 families having now returned from Kabul and the Panjshir to Shamali.
In the east, the number of IDPs has been established 55,640 families. However, indications from recent visits are that this number has changed significantly in the two months since the survey was conducted. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the base population as well as the number of vulnerable people requiring assistance. A slightly improved picture should emerge after current distributions of food and non-food items and a rough re-verification of the numbers will be undertaken.
** Melita Sunjic, Spokesperson for UNHCR
Several Afghan refugees have died from fires during the last week of January in refugee camps in Pakistan. Two fires in tents took refugee lives in Balochistan and in North West Frontier Province. Alerted by those tragic events, UNHCR is taking measures to prevent further accidents.
Just to remind you: On 20 January 2002 a fire broke out in Ashgaro camp in NWFP. Two children were killed. Tvelve tents were burnt to ashes and another 18 were damaged.
In Baluchistan a fire broke out in a tent in Lejay Karez just after midnight on Tuesday 29 January 2002, killing three generations of Hazrath Ali's family in their sleep.
Hazrath Ali's 65-year-old mother Shazado and his 25-year-old wife Kamargul perished in the flames. His youngest child, one-year-old Mohammed Ali, died later that day in hospital. Ten-year-old Abdul Haddi and 7-year-old Saifa suffered 60% burns on the face, chest and abdomen. They are in critical condition. A neighbour who tried to rescue the family was also injured. The blaze was reportedly caused by a lit candle, which set fire to some clothes, spreading to the kerosene and igniting it.
The Islamic Relief Agency has donated 50,000 rupees to the bereaved and will also pay for the medical treatment of the children. UNHCR is providing financial support as well as a new tent, blankets and food supplies.
UNHCR Sub Office in Quetta in collaboration with the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees is carrying out an immediate investigation on safety in camps in Balochistan.
As a consequence of the first accident, UNHCR had increased the distance between the tents to minimize damage in case of a fire. After this second accident UNCHR experts are examining additional precautions measures.
UNHCR is now looking into the quality of the cookers and burners in use. It shows that some groups of refugees are not familiar with kerosene stoves and the dangers involved. UNHCR plans to arrange instruction sessions on the use of kerosene burners in the camps.
Where Bukhara stoves are used, heating material seems to be an issue. Many refugees are not used to mine coal and would prefer firewood, which again raises environmental concerns.
Furthermore, UNHCR experts are thinking about buckets with sand in every tent, which could serve as fire extinguishers and about voluntary fire squads in the camp who could be trained in fire prevention and first aid.
UNHCR Afghanistan Office in Islamabad in collaboration with Maaref Magazine, an educational publication for Afghan refugee children, published a Photo Calendar for 2002. The project started while the Taliban were still in power.
The calendar features a collection of thirteen watercolor paintings showing famous historical monuments in Afghanistan. The pictures were painted by a group of Afghan painters from Herat. Paintings by three female artists were included. In its initial version the names of the artists were not mentioned in order to protect the women artists and their teacher, as painting was not allowed to women. Only after the fall of the Taliban, when the production of the calendar entered is final stage, the names of all artists could be included.