Following recent high-level contacts between the United Nations and the Taliban, the UN has agreed to close a number of its political offices in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the world body said today.
Spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that after the Taliban requested the closures earlier this month, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative, Francesc Vendrell, met with the Taliban's so-called Foreign Minister, Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil, in Kandahar. "At that meeting, it was agreed that the UN mission would close its offices in Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-I-Sharif by May 20th," Mr. Eckhard said, noting that the Kabul office would remain functional.
The UN's political office in Faizabad, which is not in Taliban-controlled territory, is not affected, according to the spokesman.
Mr. Eckhard also said that the closures would affect the Organization's political efforts in trying to bring about some kind of agreement between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. He added, however, "Our humanitarian offices are still open, so our humanitarian work is not affected."
Mr. Eckhard noted that the world body would not abandon its efforts to promote a peaceful settlement. "The UN continues to maintain contact with the authorities -- we still have our political office in Kabul open, Francesc Vendrell will continue his interaction with the parties - it's just that we no longer have a network of offices, and so that will hinder, to a certain extent, our political work, which nonetheless will continue," he said.
The Security Council was briefed this morning on the closures by Kieran Prendergast, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.