In Kabul, Annan meets Afghan citizens, thanks UN staff members for their work

In Kabul, Annan meets Afghan citizens, thanks UN staff members for their work

Conducting his first-ever visit to Afghanistan, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today heard the concerns of ordinary citizens seeking to rebuild their war-ravaged country, and thanked UN staff members, especially Afghans, for their assistance in this endeavour.

“There is lots of support around the world for the work that you are doing here,” the Secretary-General told some 200 mostly local staff members at the UN compound. Singling out the Afghan staff, who carried on the UN’s humanitarian work under war conditions after the international staff had to be withdrawn, he said: “Do us proud,” adding, “You have done a lot already and I urge you to carry on."

Speaking to the Secretary-General, one local staff member urged the UN to spend donor funds on building Afghan capacity rather than bringing in thousands of international staff. Joining the discussion, a female Afghan staff member said women were “enjoying their freedom and they’re enjoying the visible change that took place within the initiative of the United Nations.” At the same time, she added, “they really need more attention.”

Also today, the Secretary-General visited the Zarghuna Girls' School, which is receiving support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). There, young women ranging in age from 6 through 16 were preparing to resume their education after a Taliban-imposed break of five years. They held up handwritten signs in English and Dari saying, simply, “PEACE.”

The Secretary-General also met with other members of civil society, including representatives of women’s groups, who overwhelmingly emphasized their concern over security in the country.

“I hope you’ll remain a vibrant civil society,” Mr. Annan said, adding, “I know there may be times when it is us – the UN – you’ll be criticizing, but if we deserve to be criticized, why not?”

In addition to meeting with UN staff members and ordinary Afghans, the Secretary-General held talks today with Afghanistan’s interim leaders. On Saturday, he is scheduled to begin an official visit to Iran, meeting in Tehran with senior officials, including Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, President Seyed Mohammad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khameini.