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Top UN humanitarian official meets senior Pakistani, Taliban leaders on Afghanistan

Top UN humanitarian official meets senior Pakistani, Taliban leaders on Afghanistan

Kenzo Oshima
The top United Nations relief official met with Pakistani leaders today, expressing appreciation for the cooperation that the Government of Pakistan has extended to the UN over the years in addressing humanitarian problems in and around Afghanistan.

Speaking at a press briefing in Islamabad, Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima told reporters that he had given Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a letter from Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging his Government to "welcome those unfortunate Afghan civilians who would be seeking safety" in Pakistan. The letter also assured the President of the UN's commitment to work in close cooperation with the Government.

Mr. Oshima, who was in the region at the request of the Secretary-General, also met earlier in the day with the Taliban Ambassador in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, and reaffirmed the UN's commitment to help all Afghan civilians in need within the country. Mr. Oshima said he had insisted on guarantees by the Taliban authorities on the safety and security of humanitarian workers, the full restoration of communications and facilities, and the safe movement of relief goods within areas under Taliban control.

Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans waiting at the Pakistan border have reportedly left the area, either retreating further into Afghanistan and returning home or possibly seeking alternative routes out of the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today in a humanitarian update released in Geneva.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Afghans had been waiting at the Charman border crossing near the Quetta region in Pakistan. UNHCR speculated that many, particularly those from Kandahar, may have left for other parts of Afghanistan or returned home. Others may be seeking alternate routes into Pakistan, possibly through lesser-used border crossings.

Despite the official closure of the border, thousands of Afghans have managed to cross into Pakistan in recent days. Those who did told UNHCR they had left for a variety of reasons, including fear of possible military action and fear of military conscription in Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country due to the civil war and serious drought.

The movements into Pakistan have prompted UNHCR to order additional relief supplies for the country. On Monday, four UN agencies met with 15 non-governmental organizations to coordinate humanitarian tasks in the region. Meanwhile, UNHCR's first relief flight into Iran was expected to arrive tomorrow, carrying the initial shipment of tents.

Over the weekend, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) convoy carried 200 tonnes of food into Kabul, the first shipment since deteriorating security conditions and lack of commercial transport forced the agency to halt deliveries on 12 September.