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UN press briefing in Kabul 17 Mar 2002

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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE U.N. OFFICES IN KABUL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Kabul by U.N. Spokespersons Manoel de Almeida e Silva (including question and answer session). Due to technical difficulties, there is only a partial transcript of the press briefing today.

** Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan

Talking Points

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is leaving Kabul later this morning for a visit to Herat and Kandahar.

It will be the first time he will go to both cities since the Bonn Agreement. This visit also marks the beginning of a series of trips he will be taking throughout the country to establish contacts with authorities, meet local leaders and see UN colleagues in the field.

During his stay in Herat, he will meet with Governor Ismail Khan and Mayor Mohd Rafiq Mujadadi as well as with the Head of the Judiciary and Ulema Council, Al Haj Moulawi Khodad. Mr. Brahimi will also hold discussions with representatives of civil society, professionals and religious leaders.

He is expected to leave Herat for Kandahar Tuesday morning and to arrive in Kabul late afternoon that same Tuesday. The Kandahar programme is not yet finalized. Once I have more details I will be glad to share them with you.

Press Conference

On the occasion of Nau Rouz -- Afghan New Year -- Mr. Brahimi will have a press conference this coming Wednesday, 20 March, at 10 am. The press conference will be held here in this conference room.

Rehabilitation and Short-Term Employment

You may have noticed a number of workers on the streets of Kabul over the past two days. This is part of a nation wide project organized by Habitat in collaboration with the Municipalities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, Herat and Kabul to clean up all the public areas of those cities.

Here in Kabul, 3,360 unskilled labourers have been employed to clear the parks and rehabilitate the Municipality building in the center of the city. Habitat purchased here in Afghanistan shovels, brooms, picks and wheel barrows for the task. Additionally they are cleaning 25 schools situated in 13 districts in Kabul in preparation for the start of school next Saturday. It must be noted that women too have been employed to clean the insides of these schools.

Meanwhile the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), with funding from the Department for International Development of the UK, began work on four projects in Kabul province this week.

The Rehabilitation of public buildings includes the District Administrative Office of Dehsabz. In addition to providing a number of services (representatives from the Departments of Education, Rural Development, Agriculture and Judiciary) to the population, the office is used as a center for conflict resolution and thus a tool for overall security in the district. The rehabilitation of the building will also provide a space for representatives of the Shura. The Dehsabz District office provides services to some 40 thousand people.

In the Shakar Dara district UNOPS are constructing a District Administrative office as well as two High Schools. The boys school will benefit 1,500 students, the girls school a further 800.

Both schools were completely destroyed as a result of fighting and students are currently using private houses or open space. Each school will take approx. 90 days to build. It is hoped that this project will increase the number of day classes conducted, as well as the enrollment of students.

Update on Ghor Province - WHO

A World Health Organisation nutritionist along with staff from the Swedish Rescue Services Agency, and Medecins du Monde have traveled to the village of Halri in Ghor Province to verify reports of a spread of scurvy to the north of Chagcharan, the capital of the province. WHO has already confirmed an outbreak of scurvy, a disease caused by lack of Vitamin C, in Taiwara district in the south of Ghor Province. Five thousand people are being treated for the disease in Taiwara district. WHO is recommending large-scale supplementary nutrition support throughout the province. There are an estimated 500,000 people living in Ghor province.

Scurvy outbreak - UNICEF

Following the announcement made last week on cases of scurvy in Ghor Province, UNICEF has now distributed 252,000 doses of Vitamin C in Taiwara and Pasaband districts, and is procuring a total of 8 million doses to ensure a supplementation programme that will last one month. The Vitamin supplements are being distributed through implementing partner Action Contre Le Faim, and in addition outreach workers with the polio immunization programme have been trained on use of the supplements and will also support distribution activities. UNICEF has also supplied 3,760 packets of High Protein Biscuits for children in Taiwara and Pasaband.

National Health Sector Planning Conference - WHO

Meanwhile, international and national health officials are in the second day of a four-day conference in Kabul to chart the future course of health care in Afghanistan. At least 250 representatives from the Ministry of Public Health, UN agencies and NGOS will focus on setting priorities for recovery of the health sector. Health officials from Afghanistan's regions will today present profiles of the health situations in their provinces and districts. WHO is concerned about the gap between health care in urban areas, especially Kabul, and rural areas which are often underserved.

On Monday, WHO will offer a one- hour seminar to Afghan journalists to update them on the health situation in the country and explain the objectives of the national planning workshop. The seminar is open to all journalists and will be held at the Ministry of Public Health library at 10:00 am.

Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan

Finally, an announcement from the Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (MACA).

Yesterday the Centre received reports from the Mine Dog Centre (local NGO) of UXOs, large rockets and missiles found on the Nader Khan Hill, near the stadium. This is a cause for concern given the upcoming celebrations. MACA are sending an Afghan Training Centre team of 34 persons to begin clearance work today. Nader Khan Hill is also the gravesite of King Zahir Shah's family and it is expected that many will wish to visit the area in the next few days.

The Mine Action Centre will be announcing the various "no-go" areas on the radio this week.

Afghan Returnees -- Yusuf Hassan

More than 45,000 Afghans have returned home in the last two weeks under the joint Afghan Interim Administration and UNHCR repatriation programme.

This week, thousands of Afghans wanting to return home converged at Takhta Baig, a UNHCR registration centre near Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. Returnee convoys also jammed the Peshawar-Jalalabad road.

UNHCR sent extra staff who worked through the weekend to clear the backlog. Similarly, the Mohmandara centre near Jalalabad stayed opened on Friday and provided cash grants to more than 7,200 returnees.

The majority of the refugees are returning to Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul province. But some are returning to places as far as Jawzjan in the northern region.

To cope with the large increase in the number of Afghans who wish to return from Pakistan, UNHCR is extending the working days of the Takhta Baig and Mohmandara centres to six.

The UN Refugee Agency is also opening two more registration centres in Nawa Pass and Alizai near Peshawar in the northwest Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, UNHCR has opened 7 relief distribution centres, where the returnees can collect an assistance package consisting of plastic sheeting, blanket, jerry cans, kerosene lantern, kitchen set, soap and a hygienic kit as well as wheat.

At the same time, the repatriation of internally displaced persons from the ex-Soviet Compound in Kabul continues. Since 6 March, the Ministry of Reparation, UNHCR and IOM have assisted the return of some 8,000 Afghans to the Shomali plain in Central Afghanistan. The transfer of the remaining 7,600 IDPS is expected to completed this week.

IA and UNHCR plans to assist the return of some 800,000 Afghans from Pakistan and Iran in 2002.

** Transcript of the Press Briefing by Mr. Nader Nadery, Press Officer for the Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Loya Jirga

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to tell you my English is not good but I will try to give you an update of the Commission's work. As you know, the Commission Members have worked on the criteria, regulations and rules about internal procedure of the Loya Jirga stations and about the procedure of elections of the Members of the Loya Jirga. Recently we had a delegation; they went to Ghor [province] and [inaudible] they met with the people, they explained the procedure of election to the people and they gave the feedback and the suggestions of the people according to the progress of the work of the Loya Jirga.

As well today, our delegation will have a trip to Herat, as well as to Kandahar and Farah provinces. The delegation will combine Mr. Rashid Saljoqi and Professor Abdul Aziz, the Vice-Chair of the Commission. We hope the Commission is trying to finish these operations and rules very soon, maybe the first or second day of the new year we will have the announcement of the election procedure of the Members of the Loya Jirga.

Q: [inaudible]

Loya Jirga Press Officer: Yes this is the same delegation. They are not going to Ghor, our delegation went to Ghor 12 days ago but this is the same delegation and they will go to Heart, Farah and Kandahar. They will spend three days with the people [inaudible] then they will return back.

Q: [inaudible]

Loya Jirga Press Officer: Yes, we have two kinds of meetings with the people. One which is established by the people and they are inviting Members of the Loya Jirga Commission, and the other they are trying to visit publicly maybe in a school, a mosque and everywhere of the city.

Q: [inaudible]

Loya Jirga Press Officer: Today they will be in Herat, the day after tomorrow will be in Farah and [inaudible]

Q: Will there be an announcement from them on 21 March?

Loya Jirga Press Officer: It is not clear yet, but yes we hope to have some announcement two or three days after the new year, after Nau Rouz.

Q: They are just going to be announcing the election procedures, they will not be announcing the membership of the Loya Jirga?

Loya Jirga Press Officer: No they will only announce the procedure of the election and then the election procedure will start at the same time.

Q: [inaudible] On the reaction of people to the Commission visit.

Loya Jirga Press Officer: [The Commissioners] are welcome always, the people [are] very warm, when they meet every villages, every districts and provinces, lots of people are waiting for them and [inaudible] there is a very warm welcome to the delegation.

Q: Could you tell us more about how the consultation process works?

Loya Jirga Press Officer: The composition of the delegation is two or three members of the Loya Jirga Commission to each visit. They are standing together with the people publicly, everybody is welcome to come and have their suggestions and ask for explanations. There is no specific procedure to [inaudible] with a specific group or parties, but they are sitting with everybody, maybe in the mosque, in public areas and maybe have some talks and everyone can join them. [There] is not a specific number [of participants], large number of people will join to the meetings of the delegation of the Commission.

Q: Once the election procedures have been decided, is it up to the regions, tribes to elect representatives? Does the Commission have any role or it just organising it?

Loya Jirga Press Officer: As the Chairman of the Commission told the media, it will be a two step indirect election. It means first the people will select the representatives, maybe they select 10 representatives of each district, and then these 10 people [will] select one or two who have the right to come to the Loya Jirga.

Q: [inaudible] Question on unexploded ordnances.

UNOCHA: [inaudible] Mine Dog Centre, an Afghan NGO - They were on a routine training in the area and the dogs were let out and it was found quite by accident. Previously this area had been cleared two years ago, it has been safe for some time so this is a recent find and slightly worrying.

Q: [inaudible]

UNOCHA: As I understand they were checking it, just over the last few days, but it has been known to be safe for at least two years now. I believe it was thoroughly cleared in 1996 but I can get more dates.

Q: [inaudible]

UNOCHA: They found a few pieces, but we will know more by the end of the day because the team is going out today.

Q: [inaudible]

UNOCHA: Yes within the last two days.

Q: [inaudible}

UNOCHA: The report from the local NGO came through the day before yesterday so that was Friday.

Q: Can we draw any conclusions from the fact that these mines were found [inaudible]

UNOCHA: I would not want to say anything right now. I think the best thing to do would be to wait to see what the actual report will be like at the end of the day today. Conclusions can be drawn on various things, I do not think we should presume anything at this stage.

Q: [inaudible] On types of material found.

UNOCHA: Large rockets, missiles, unexploded ordnances. These three things.

UN Spokesman: So the team is going there today or is there now and then we will know more. You can contact Rebecca later in the day on Eriksson extension 4483. More details on that at the very end of the day, if we have any we will be glad to share them with you. Thank you.