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Afghanistan: UN envoy reports some progress but warns against complacency

Afghanistan: UN envoy reports some progress but warns against complacency

Lakhdar Brahimi
The situation in Afghanistan has improved, but the international community must remain vigilant in helping the country to contain instability and recover from decades of war, the senior United Nations official in the country said today.

"There is absolutely no room for complacency - there are still very, very serious problems - but there is every reason to be hopeful the 24 years of incessant conflict and destruction is behind the people of Afghanistan," Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the country, told reporters in New York.

Warning that the main threat to Afghanistan is insecurity, Mr. Brahimi asked, "How many people are still out there trying to disrupt the peace process?" The figure was "unknown," he said, but "that is why we need to be vigilant."

He voiced hope that efforts to establish a national police force and army would come to fruition "and that in a matter of one year or two, Afghans will be in a position to take care of most of their security needs." In the meantime, the Secretary-General and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been calling for more international support for security.

The envoy also stressed that Afghanistan's humanitarian needs are enormous, with some 5 million to 6 million people in the country relying on outside help. At the same time, 1.6 million Afghan refugees had returned, with more expected. Hundreds of thousands were arriving in Kabul, placing "a huge burden on a city that has no services to speak of." People were living in makeshift shelters, which were habitable as long as the weather remained warm, but "winter is going to be very, very difficult," he cautioned.

The UN was working closely with the Government to see how to redirect, as much as possible, funds to long-term development.

Asked if future actions in Iraq would affect the UN's work in Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi said that while there was no direct link between the two, "certainly a major crisis in that part of the world is much too close to us for comfort."

"We are extremely apprehensive, and keeping our fingers crossed," he added.