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Amid reports of surrender, Annan urges Afghan sides to honour international law

Amid reports of surrender, Annan urges Afghan sides to honour international law

Acutely concerned about the safety and well-being of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged all parties to respect international humanitarian law.

A spokesman for Mr. Annan said in a statement that the Secretary-General was also concerned over combatants "who either have surrendered or wish to do so in accordance with the laws of war." The Secretary-General strongly appealed to all parties to respect the Geneva Conventions and comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters in New York that the UN had been formally approached on Monday evening regarding the situation in Kunduz. Representatives in Islamabad had informed the UN that "Taliban commanders from inside Kunduz wanted to surrender unconditionally and wanted to do it through the United Nations."

Mr. Brahimi said that the Secretary-General had been in touch on the issue with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Northern Alliance and members of the international coalition.

"It is evident that the United Nations cannot, has no means, is not present on the ground, and simply cannot unfortunately accede to this request," said the envoy. "The Secretary-General has asked the Northern Alliance to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and treat this question with as much humanity as possible," he added.

The Secretary-General would continue to make his appeal that international humanitarian law and human rights be respected not only with regard to Kunduz but everywhere else, Mr. Brahimi stressed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan's spokesman today also said that the Secretary-General was "particularly appalled by the murder yesterday of four journalists on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul, and condemns this act in the strongest possible terms."

The spokesman, Fred Eckhard, expressed grief over the murders, noting that the journalists had been killed "for simply trying to do their job."

“In one way or another all of them had links with the United Nations either by covering events where the UN was also present or through direct personal involvement,” he said, referring to Maria Grazia Cutuli, of Italian daily Corriere della Serra; Azizullah Haidari, a Reuters photographer; Julio Fuentes, from the Spanish daily El Mundo; and Harry Burton, an Australian cameraman.

"Our prayers and thoughts are with their families as well as with the families of the three other journalists also killed in Afghanistan a few days ago: Pierre Billaud of RTL Radio, Volker Handloik, a freelance reporter working for Stern magazine, and Johanne Sutton of Radio France International," Mr. Eckhard said.