The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Kabul by U.N. Spokesperson, Manoel de Almeida e Silva (including question and answer session).
** Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan
SRSG's Trip to Beirut and Geneva
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar. Brahimi, is leaving Kabul this afternoon for Beirut. He will join Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the Lebanese capital and will be attending the Arab Summit on 27 and 28 March.
From Beirut Mr. Brahimi will go to Geneva where on 30 March he will be participating in the meeting of the Geneva Initiative. This group, established in 2001 to support the political process in Afghanistan, brings together Italy, Iran, Germany and the USA. It is the first time they meet since the establishment of the Special Independent Commission on the Loya Jirga and they will be reviewing their support for the Loya Jirga process. The meeting will take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
On 3 April, also at the Palais des Nations, Mr. Brahimi will attend an informal meeting of donors on the payment of salaries to the Afghan army and police. They will also be discussing the reform of the security sector and the demobilisation and integration of former combatants.
Mr. Brahimi is expected back in Kabul at the end of the first week of April.
UN Secretary-General's Report to the Security Council on Afghanistan
On Thursday 21 March, the Secretary-General's Report on Afghanistan went to the Security Council. It provides a comprehensive account of developments in Afghanistan since the Bonn Agreement. It also covers the security situation, including efforts to create Afghan security institutions and humanitarian relief, recovery and reconstruction activities carried out by United Nations agencies and others.
The Secretary-General also proposes a mandate (para. 104) and a structure for the future UN presence in Afghanistan: 'United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan' (UNAMA). This structure will be headed by Special Representative for the Secretary-General, Mr. Brahimi, and contains two 'pillars': one for political affairs and the other for relief, recovery and reconstruction. The proposed structure contains mechanisms for inter-pillar coordination both at headquarters and at the regional level to ensure that political and humanitarian/development activities support each other rather than run at cross-purposes.
A key innovation of the proposed structure is the integration of humanitarian relief, recovery and reconstruction activities within a single pillar. Mr. Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, will head this and he will be a guest at the press briefing in the near future.
Another innovation is the Secretary-General's proposal that the mission have a 'light expatriate footprint'. This is to ensure that Afghans take the lead in the post-conflict recovery phase.
The Secretary-General notes the importance of the upcoming Emergency Loya Jirga, and urges Afghan leaders to recognise that dialogue and compromise with political rivals depends not on international financial assistance, but on the will and the courage to transcend ethnic and regional parochialism in favour of national unity and lasting peace.
The Security Council is scheduled to hold a public meeting on Afghanistan next Tuesday, and its Members will discuss the Secretary-General's Report in closed consultations on Wednesday.
Renovation of Kabul University's Male Dormitory
Following the successful opening of school this weekend, work for a successful higher education system in Afghanistan is continuous.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding of 300,000 US dollars from the Afghanistan Interim Administration Fund (AIAF), are beginning renovations this week on the boys dormitory of Kabul University. The work will employ approximately 200 local Afghans over the coming three weeks.
The University has already begun and boys are presently sleeping in guest houses in various parts of the city, as well as in the dormitory itself, which is in a terrible condition, no windows or sanitary facilities.
On completion, the building will house approximately 3,500 male students, which will allow greater access to education in the capital, especially for those students from the rural areas.
Plans are underway to rebuild the old girls dormitory. The girls are presently housed in alternative accommodation.
Scurvy outbreak in Ghor Province
Following the outbreak of scurvy in Ghor Province, World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organisation (WHO) teams are assessing the food and health situation in Taiwara. More detail is available in a brief note attached.
Afghan Returnees from Pakistan
A record number of Afghans returned home in the last 21 days under an assisted programme organised by UNHCR, the Afghan Interim Administration and the government of Pakistan.
An average of 10,000 refugees having been crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan every day in the last five days, bringing the number of people assisted to return since 1 March to more than 83,000. This is the largest return of Afghans to their homeland since 1993.
Nearly 50% of refugees are returning to the eastern province of Nangarhar, 25% to Kabul province, and the rest to provinces in central and northern Afghanistan.
UNHCR and Afghan Radio to Launch Humanitarian Broadcast
UNHCR signed an agreement with Afghanistan Radio and Television on 23 March 2002 for a humanitarian programme to be broadcast on the state-owned network.
UNHCR and Afghan Television will begin a 15-minute weekly humanitarian programme each in Pashto and Dari to be produced by its educational section. The first programme is expected to broadcast in early April. (More details are available in the attachment)
UNICEF's Talking Points with an Overview of the 'Back to School' Launch
Kabul: A major national celebration of the launch of the new school term took place in Amani High School, featuring teachers and children in the presence of HE Chairman Hamid Karzai, the Minister of Education, The Aga Khan and Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. One of the main features of the event was a parade of the new school uniform for girls and women teachers.
In the East, ceremonies were held in four provinces. The main ceremony included 2,500 people (children, parents, Governor, Education Official and Teachers). A separate ceremony was held in the morning for female teachers and students -- 1,500 attended. Speeches set out the importance of a new beginning. The planned supplies and teacher training were explained.
In the North, ceremonies were held in eight provinces. The main ceremony included 350 people, led by Governor General Dostum. Three main political groups in the region were represented and pledged support to the Ministry of Education. It was a huge success.
Faizabad: A small ceremony was held in the provincial Department of Education. Singing by pupils. Schools working throughout the province.
Herat: Although it rained, celebrations took place in the school, and the Governor spoke for one hour. There were big celebrations.
Kandahar: A parade was held it in the morning. The launch took place in the stadium. The Governor, Mayor, Education Director and UNICEF made speeches. It was attended by over 3,000 students and was followed by singing and dancing.
Exact figures on the number of children returning to school will not be clear for a little time, but UNICEF and the Ministry of Education hope to start getting reports over the coming weeks. In April, a national rapid assessment of pupil enrolment will take place, and the results of this -- due to be available at the end of the month -- will enable the Ministry to have a good overview of children actually attending school. This will be supported by a more detailed data management programme that will also be developed in April, and is expected to start producing details information on the whole education system by the end of the summer.
Questions and Answers
Q: On the Afghan army salary payment whether it will include people in the militia.
Spokesman: [The meeting is to look at the] means to cover salaries for a new army once that is established. We are talking about the new Afghan national army once that is established.
Q: Question on the meeting in Beirut.
Spokesman: It is the regular Arab Summit, and of course, Mr. Brahimi will be there with the Secretary-General because it is assumed that Afghanistan will be an issue of interest to some of the participants.
Q: Question on the integration of former combatants and the implications of this in the new army
Spokesman: If you are talking about a new security sector and within that, you are talking about a new national army and police, you also have to look at demobilising and reintegration for those people who are former combatants or who wish to go back to civilian life. Everything is a package, you cannot look at it piecemeal, that is the whole idea.
Q: Question on possible renovations to the girls dormitory.
UNOCHA: The boys dormitory is the one that is in quite bad condition. The girls were the ones who were focused on immediately and housed in very good accommodation in Kabul so they are safe and secure. The boys, on the other hand, some are still sleeping in the old dormitory in terrible condition and in guest houses so that is why the work is beginning there first.