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Improved security permits some UN aid workers to return to Afghanistan

Improved security permits some UN aid workers to return to Afghanistan

Security conditions in Afghanistan have improved enough for the United Nations to begin sending aid workers back into the country to bolster the ongoing relief effort, UN officials in Islamabad said today.

So far, a total of five staff members from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have returned to Faizabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it reopened its office in Kabul, which was reported as returning to normalcy with local staff reporting back to work.

The agency also said that more than 1,300 Afghans returned home through Dogharoun, Iran's main border crossing with Afghanistan, in the largest single-day return since the end of August. However, UNHCR was increasingly concerned about the possible influx of a new wave of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, said spokesperson Yusuf Hassan. "There are reports of population movements from the southern Afghanistan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand heading towards the Pakistani border."

As for the delivery of food aid, WFP said it was continuing to move food from Uzbekistan using barges on the Amu Darya River to a warehouse inside Afghanistan - 80 kilometres north of Mazar-i-Sharif.

"Hopefully the Uzbek Government will be able to soon reopen the friendship bridge crossing the Amu Darya River allowing us to move faster and in bigger quantities by land rather than limiting aid agencies to the slow moving barges," WFP spokesperson Lindsey Davies said. "We continue to supply the northern provinces from Turkmenistan as much as we can, but we cannot overstate the logistical importance of Mazar-i-Sharif, which sits on the crossroads to access of all the northern province."

WFP also reported that for the third day, no trucks used by the UN agency have moved into Afghanistan from Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. "The main fear from the Peshawar drivers is that the road into Kabul is an exit road for the Taliban and this route is flanked by other factions who wish to seize control, making it dangerous and unsafe to travel along," the spokesperson said.