Afghanistan: Taliban reject truce appeal by UN refugee official

Afghanistan: Taliban reject truce appeal by UN refugee official

A malnourished Afghan child
A high-level Taliban minister said today that the group would not honour a temporary truce that was sought by the visiting head of the United Nations refugee agency in an effort to bring aid to vulnerable Afghans currently inaccessible in the conflict-ravaged country.

Taliban "Foreign Minister" Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil conveyed the message to Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during a meeting in Kabul, according to a UN spokesman. Mr. Lubbers met with the Taliban official to press for the truce, but the Taliban "did not agree to halt the fighting," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The High Commissioner met yesterday in Faisabad with Afghanistan's President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had agreed with the idea of the proposed truce on the condition the other side did the same.

After trips to Iran and Afghanistan, Mr. Lubbers next heads for Pakistan, where he will visit newly arrived Afghans and meet Pakistan's Chief Executive, Pervez Musharraf, and other government officials.

Afghanistan has been devastated by the combined effects of fighting and massive population displacements, as well as major human rights abuses, drought, a looming famine and an economy in shambles. According to UNHCR, Pakistan and Iran are bearing a heavy part of the burden from the Afghan crisis, hosting some 4 million refugees -- one third of the world's refugee population.