The security situation in the key Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif is "fragile but improving," paving the way for the return of international relief personnel, a United Nations spokesman said today.
Reporting the findings of a seven-member assessment team which visited the city on Thursday, spokesman Fred Eckhard told the press in New York that all UN offices in Mazar - except for the one belonging to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) - had been rendered non-functional because of looting. All UN vehicles in the city had also been taken. Despite these difficulties, "the team held talks with General Abdurrashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance and other officials there on the progressive return of UN personnel."
The mission also raised concern about the protection of civilians and the condition of the internally displaced in Mazar-i-Sharif, "reminding the authorities that the eyes of the world are on them right now," he said.
Meanwhile, UN officials in Kabul and Islamabad today expressed their deep concern at the situation in Kunduz, stressing that a negotiated arrangement for the surrender of the Taliban forces - if they wished to do so - would not only save both sides from further bloodletting but would also allow the UN and its partners to revive much-needed humanitarian assistance efforts in the area.
The UN officials emphasized that under international humanitarian law and UN human rights conventions, members of armed forces who laid down their arms were entitled to be treated humanely, without any adverse distinctions based on race, colour, religion or other such criteria.
In another development, UNICEF today announced that its Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, is scheduled leave this weekend on a trip that will take her to Afghanistan and Pakistan to survey the difficult conditions facing millions of children in a region stricken by drought, displacement, disease and conflict. She will reach the region on Friday following stops in London, Dublin and Geneva.
Ms. Bellamy said her trip to the Afghan region would emphasize the critical role children will play in the healthy, future development of Afghanistan. "With winter arriving in Afghanistan at the same time as a new set of political circumstances come into view, this is a crucial time," she said. "As we plan for the reconstruction of this country's education system, health care network, and other basic services for children, we cannot forget the immediate needs that must be met over the next difficult months."