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Amid improved security, more UN aid workers return to Afghanistan

Amid improved security, more UN aid workers return to Afghanistan

Amid improved security, more United Nations international relief staff are returning to Afghanistan to join their local counterparts in assisting millions of people in the war-ravaged and drought-stricken country, UN officials said today.

"UN staff began returning on Saturday and Sunday to Kabul after a security assessment that flew in to Bagram air base early Saturday morning," spokesperson Stephanie Bunker told reporters in Islamabad.

The UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mike Sackett, along with other senior UN relief officials in Kabul, visited relief offices and addressed their staff. Ms. Bunker said that with the security situation improving, the UN planned to send more international staff back as soon as possible. "National Afghan staff are already working, including women," she noted.

The UN is using the Bagram air base pending a mine assessment of the Kabul airport, according to Antonio Donini, Deputy Coordinator in the UN Coordinator's Office.

Afghans returning to areas such as Kandahar and villages to the north may encounter dangers from mines or ordnance, according to Mr. Donini. UN mine action staff today began a special training programme aimed at enabling them to survey, identify and mark off sub-munitions and ordnance.

The situation in Kabul was reported to be "relatively calm, but fragile," he said, with buses moving and trucks reportedly travelling from Peshawar into Afghanistan as far as Jalalabad.

Security assessments of UN offices in Kabul revealed that at least eight vehicles and seven radios were missing. An assessment of Mazar-i-Sharif, meanwhile, found large-scale looting, with the UN having reportedly lost "all vehicles, radios, and communications equipment" in that city, Mr. Domini said.