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Afghanistan: UN holds talks with Taliban to keep bakeries aid project running

Afghanistan: UN holds talks with Taliban to keep bakeries aid project running

Talks between the United Nations and the Taliban aimed at forestalling the possible closure of a key UN food project in Afghanistan are now under way and could run through tomorrow, according to a UN relief official.

Rashid Khalikov told reporters in New York that the negotiations focused on a World Food Programme (WFP) bakery project benefiting close to 300,000 people in Kabul, and the survey of beneficiaries in Kabul. "Of course the results of this negotiation have implications for the overall programmes but for now it concerns one specific issue on which negotiations are ongoing with a chance of them continuing tomorrow," he said.

The Taliban have objected to WFP's intention to hire Afghan women to survey beneficiaries of the bakery project in order to ensure that those in need are receiving help. Late last month, the agency warned that it would suspend the project on 15 June in the absence of an independent survey.

The UN is seeking "an operating environment that would allow us to continue to provide assistance to the most vulnerable populations inside Afghanistan, which are increasing dramatically because of the impact of war and drought," Mr. Khalikov said.

Asked to characterize the current relationship between the UN and the Taliban, Mr. Khalikov said it was "not very easy, but we continue to talk to them and it is our intention to continue to talk to them because we have a humanitarian imperative - we have to provide assistance to those who need this assistance and of course we have to find a solution to our problems in terms of access and other issues related to the environment [facing the relief community] in Afghanistan."