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United Front leaders tell UN that women can fully participate in Afghan society

United Front leaders tell UN that women can fully participate in Afghan society

Leaders of the United Front have indicated that women will be able to fully participate in Afghan society, a senior United Nations official reported today.

The UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, Michael Sackett, told reporters in Islamabad that during his "very productive" meetings on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, a "broad understanding" was reached on a range of important issues involving international humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

"Dr. Abdullah welcomed Afghan women's full participation in society and confirmed to us that there was now no restriction on the employment of Afghan women by UN agencies," Mr. Sackett said. "He also agreed that the chador is acceptable street attire for Afghan women and that the burqa is no longer mandatory."

In addition, the Foreign Minister indicated that his government would receive proposals from UN agencies on the promotion of human rights. "We made it very clear that the eyes of the world are on the new authorities," said Mr. Sackett.

According to the UN Coordinator, Dr. Abdullah also agreed to designate security focal points in key areas to help ensure the safety and security of UN national and international staff. "The authorities also agreed to our suggestion that it would be extremely advantageous to inform the general population of the country about the return of the UN system's national and international staff to Afghanistan and about its rapidly expanding assistance programme," he added.

The UN Coordinator also met on Tuesday with the Head of Internal Security to plan for security incident procedures regarding UN workers. Mr. Sackett said he had asked about the recent murder of four journalists, and was told that “a full investigation has been launched and that the perpetrators were probably former Taliban fighters.”

Meanwhile, United Nations officials said today that UN offices in Jalalabad had all been either wholly or partially looted, and UN vehicles and communications equipment in Mazar-i-Sharif were also damaged.

In another disturbing incident, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today said that five of its trucks carrying 210 tonnes of food from Spinboldak to the western city of Herat had been stopped on Monday by unidentified people and brought to the village of Shindand, where much of the food was stolen.

The agency was continuing its relief effort, however, dispatching today 58 trucks with about 1,800 tonnes of food from Peshawar to Kabul and Jalalabad. A WFP aircraft also left today from Islamabad for Kabul, carrying equipment for aid agencies as well as 10 tonnes of high-energy biscuits.

In a related development, the World Health Organization (WHO), which has provided some 50 tonnes of essential medicines to Afghanistan over the past six weeks, stressed today that more basic drugs were required. The agency also reported a critical shortage of health staff in Kabul.