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Lack of border access in Pakistan frustrating relief efforts for Afghanistan: UNHCR

Lack of border access in Pakistan frustrating relief efforts for Afghanistan: UNHCR

Lack of access to border areas in Pakistan today continued for the fourth straight day to stymie efforts by United Nations relief agencies to inject urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Afghanistan.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed growing concern and frustration over numerous obstacles preventing the agency from making urgent preparations for a possible influx of refugees in countries bordering Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, red tape and security concerns prevented field teams from getting access to the border areas to monitor possible population movements or from offering assistance to new arrivals, UNHCR said.

Spokesperson Yusuf Hassan told a press briefing in Islamabad that local authorities have informed UNHCR that they were withdrawing seven sites in Bajaur and Lower Dir from the list of places that had already been selected for development as possible camp sites, bringing down to 25 the number of sites available for the use of new arrivals. Discussions were continuing with the local authorities to identify more sites, he said.

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator's Office for Afghanistan gave more details on the spate of attacks on non-governmental organizations (NGO) working with the UN mine-clearing programme and their premises and vehicles.

Stephanie Bunker, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, said on Tuesday night in Jalalabad that a group of armed Taliban entered a mine action NGO there, tied up, and beat the office security guards. No damage was done to the office equipment.

The night before, at a compound of a mine action organization in Kandahar, armed Taliban elements entered and demanded vehicles. Staff who resisted were beaten and seven ambulances, seven pick-ups and six cargo vehicles were taken. The intruders ordered all personnel but one out of the office. A similar attack took place on Sunday in Kabul, where the staff were beaten and some locks broken on vehicles, which were left behind.

In other news, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) continued its food shipments into the country, with 40 trucks en route from Peshawar to Kabul carrying 1,000 metric tonnes of food. "We have no choice. Millions of people in Afghanistan rely on us for food," said Francesco Luna, a spokesperson for the agency. "We are in a race against time to send food into Afghanistan. It is one of the most difficult tasks WFP has faced in its history. The harsh winter is approaching and many human lives are at stake."