HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Opium and Aid Top Afghan Talks
Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2001
Source: Times of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan)
Copyright: 2001 The Times of Central Asia


KABUL. A six-monthly donor meeting for Afghanistan has begun in the 
Pakistan capital, Islamabad.

The two-day meeting is to discuss the humanitarian crisis in 
Afghanistan amid mounting tensions between aid workers and the ruling 
Taleban militia.

The 16-member Afghan Support Group (ASG) will review the aid response 
to the emergency in Afghanistan, where more than 800,000 people have 
become homeless since mid-2000 due to war and drought.

High on the agenda will also be relief for farmers who have lost 
their main source of income in the wake the Taleban's ban on opium 

Growing Harassment

The United Nations has lodged strong protests with the fundamentalist 
Islamic militia over growing incidents of abuse and harassment of aid 
workers in the troubled country.

It is also understood to be seeking legal advice on a new code of 
conduct, which the Taleban will require all foreigners to sign.

The code is designed to make foreigners abide by the Taleban's strict 
version of Islamic law, but aid workers are concerned its vague 
provisions could be used for political reasons.

"How are we going to work in the wake of the Taleban's restrictive 
actions, which are increasing day by day?" said German ambassador to 
Pakistan, Hans-Joachim Daerr, who is the current chief of the ASG.

Aid At Risk

He said the ASG, including two European Commission bodies and 14 
countries, had provided $200m to Afghanistan so far this year, but 
future assistance was at risk unless the Taleban co-operated with the 
relief community.

UN country co-ordinator Erick de Mul has also warned the world body 
may have no choice but to close its humanitarian projects unless the 
Taleban creates a secure operational environment.

"In many parts of the country, aid personnel, especially national 
staff, face sporadic harassment including detention on spurious 
charges," a UN document presented to the meeting said.

Famine Fears

The UN estimates more than a million Afghans could face famine this 
year unless massive international assistance is forthcoming.

But efforts to raise funds from the international community have been 
stymied by the Taleban's record of human rights abuses and the 
ongoing war between the militia and opposition forces.

"The international and regional solidarity that supported Afghans for 
so long has steadily eroded," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR) said in a briefing paper presented at the meeting.

The BBC's correspondent Kate Clark says that the Taleban's ban on 
opium cultivation last year is likely to be another topic of 
discussion at the meeting.

Before the ban it was estimated that Afghanistan produced three 
quarters of the world's supply, and farmers have now lost their major 

Afghan poppy farmers have lost four fifths of their income by 
switching to other crops. Many have been left indebted - some have 
had to sell land.


Apart from the US, no other country has yet pledged any assistance.

The lack of response so far from the international community has left 
the Taleban disillusioned and angry.

They felt it was one issue where their efforts should have been 
acknowledged because many countries had complained so vociferously 
when poppy was being grown.

Many drug enforcement officials say it is vital to support Afghan 
farmers if the ban is to become sustainable. They say that if nothing 
is done it will be the world's fault if Afghans go back to growing 
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