UN envoy in Afghanistan welcomes start of process to elect ‘Loya Jirga’ council

UN envoy in Afghanistan welcomes start of process to elect ‘Loya Jirga’ council

Lakhdar Brahimi
Lakhdar Brahimi, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), today hailed the start of the election process for the emergency Loya Jirga, a tribal council which is set to play a central role in the country's political transition.

Calling it a "great day" for Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi said he hoped that people throughout the country "will get together peacefully in a fraternal spirit, and together will make the choice without interference, without pressure, without any intimidation from any side" during the election.

The UNAMA chief made his comments in Afghanistan's Jowzjan province, where he was welcomed by a cheering crowd as children sang and danced. Addressing the people in the audience - who had arrived by car, truck, horse and foot - Mr. Brahimi voiced hope that they would freely choose representatives to serve on the Loya Jirga.

During this first stage of the process, Afghans in about 300 districts are expected to select potential candidates to form a pool from which 1,500 members will be selected in a second stage of elections after 20 May.

The Commission for the Loya Jirga has made special provisions for the participation of women in the body, according to the UNAMA Director of the Field Coordination Division, Anders Fange. Briefing reporters in Kabul on Sunday, he noted that although women were entitled to present themselves as candidates for the open seats, relatively few would feel confident doing this. "The Commission has therefore reserved 160 seats for women, equivalent to 11 per cent of the seats" he said, adding that this gender composition "would put Afghanistan ahead of all Muslim countries."

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today said food rations continued to be delivered to the areas hit by Friday's earthquake in Afghanistan. UNAMA has helped to distribute thousands of WFP aid packages to affected families.

In another development, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, arrived today in the western city of Herat as part of his tour of the region. On Sunday, Mr. Lubbers ended his two-day visit to Iran by walking into Afghanistan alongside some 1,000 Afghan refugees heading home under a new UNHCR repatriation initiative.

"I'm now the High Commissioner for Returnees," he told the press at the frontier, where UNHCR expects the majority of Iran's 1.5 million Afghan refugees to cross homewards over the next few years as the situation stabilizes in their homeland.