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UN's top refugee official urges Afghan sides to halt fire so aid can go through

UN's top refugee official urges Afghan sides to halt fire so aid can go through

Displaced Afghans
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged all sides in Afghanistan's conflict to halt their fighting so that relief workers can reach those in need.

A UNHCR spokesman said today that High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers was holding high-level meetings in Afghanistan -- a country ravaged by drought and long-running war -- to appeal to both sides to at least temporarily refrain from further hostilities so aid agencies could step up their efforts inside Afghanistan, where the suffering was "enormous."

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, spokesman Ron Redmond said Mr. Lubbers' three-leg trip, which has taken him to Iran and Afghanistan and will include a stop in Pakistan, aims to facilitate relief efforts. "His message to both sides in the Afghan conflict is that the international community cannot be expected to continue delivering aid to Afghanistan - and take care of the growing numbers of displaced and refugees - year after year while the parties go on fighting with no regard for innocent victims," Mr. Redmond said.

The High Commissioner, who arrived in Herat yesterday from Mashad, Iran, was expected to meet today with senior Taliban officials in Kandahar and Kabul. In the Herat area, he toured the Jangan village returnee settlement and the sprawling Maslaqh camp, where some 100,000 displaced people have sought aid.

Later this week, Mr. Lubbers will fly to Faisabad for meetings with the President and Defence Minister of Afghanistan, according to Mr. Redmond. After that, the High Commissioner will travel to Pakistan, where he will meet senior officials and tour refugee encampments.

Afghanistan has been embroiled in conflict for the last 20 years and, despite the return of more than 4.6 million refugees, there are still some 3.6 million Afghans outside their homeland. UNHCR estimates that more than 500,000 people are displaced due to the civil war and drought inside the country. Since 1979, the agency has spent more than $1.1 billion assisting Afghan refugees.