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    Press Release No:  UNIS/SC/1210
    Release Date:  10 April 2000
     No Reason for Optimism about Early Ceasefire in Afghanistan
    Security Council Told During Open Briefing

     NEW YORK, 7 April (UN Headquarters) -- It was not possible to be optimistic about an early ceasefire between the warring factions in Afghanistan, John Renninger, Officer-in-Charge of the Asia and Pacific Division of the Department of Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning, as it held an open briefing on the situation in that country.

     While severe weather and the observance of the holy month of Ramadan had forced both sides to reduce the intensity of the fighting, it had not come to a halt, he said. In fact, there was every indication that the parties were preparing for a full-scale offensive in the spring. Humanitarian conditions continued to worsen and living conditions were so precarious that easily treatable diseases accounted for the deaths of 180,000 children a year. 

     While noting limited progress in the improvement of the situation of women and girls, the overall situation remained unacceptable and warranted the sustained attention of the international community, he continued. While women’s access to education, health and employment was severely restricted since the Taliban takeover, there was evidence from the field indicating a shift in the Taliban's position on women in the last 18 months. Also, restrictions once imposed on female staff of United Nations agencies had been eased.

     Angela King, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that further progress in Afghanistan was likely to be as slow as the modest progress achieved over the past two years, unless there was a strong negotiated peace. Unfortunately, the issue of gender was usually very low down on the list of priorities, or often not even a factor. The Council must continue to press for the full enjoyment of the human rights of women in Afghanistan.

     Council President and Foreign Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy, speaking in his national capacity, said Afghanistan had joined the small but growing number of countries where the State had disintegrated, leaving a vacuum. “The Taliban claim to be a bona fide government, but behave as a criminal gang, harbouring international terrorists and allowing their country to become the world’s largest exporter of illegal opiates. The acceptance they crave must be earned, through national reconciliation, the formation of a broad-based and representative government, the end of tolerance for terrorism and drug trafficking and, above all, through respect for human rights, including women’s human rights”, he said.
     
     

     Several speakers this morning condemned the Taliban’s attacks on United Nations personnel, most recently in Kandahar, and requested that the adequate guarantees be provided for their safety. Speakers were also disturbed in the increasing amount of outside interference, particularly the direct involvement of foreign fighters and mercenaries.

     Afghan affairs were and still remained today in the hands of the Pakistani army, which had begun training camps for terrorists, stated the representative of Afghanistan. Pakistan still hoped for a military solution to the conflict and the military regime continued to use religious groups for their own purposes. Such a policy was not only harmful to the Afghan people, but would be a major obstacle to peace and security in Pakistan. 

     Also this morning, the Council expressed its condolences at the passing of Habib Bourguiba, leader and former President of Tunisia, following which the representative of Tunisia made a brief statement. 

     Statements were also made by the representatives of Argentina (both in his national capacity and as Chair of the Sanctions Committee on Afghanistan), Russian Federation, France, United States, Bangladesh, China, Netherlands, Namibia, United Kingdom, Mali, Malaysia, Ukraine and Jamaica.  

    Council Work Programme

     The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan. It had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document A/54/791-S/2000/205), which covers developments from 16 November 1999 to 6 March 2000 and provides regular information on the main developments in the country, including those in the humanitarian and human rights fields. In addition to Council requests, the Secretary-General was also requested by the General Assembly to report every three months on the progress of the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA).

     According to the report, following his appointment on 12 January as the Secretary-General's Personal Representative and Head of UNSMA, Francesc Vendrell embarked on his first visit to Afghanistan as well as to several countries in the region and beyond, including members of the "six plus two" group (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russian Federation and United States). The two Afghan parties stated their readiness to cooperate with him in the search for a political solution to the conflict. Both expressed their opposition to terrorism and their commitment to progressively eradicate drug cultivation. 

     They also stated their respective positions regarding the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative government, the report continues. On the issue of a ceasefire, neither side ruled out a new offensive in the spring or summer; the Taliban because it had not given up hopes of a military victory and the United Front because it might aim at regaining the territory it had lost to the Taliban.

     The Governments of the "six plus two" group expressed concern at the absence of a political solution to the Afghan conflict and at the likelihood of renewed fighting once winter was over. They all confirmed their commitment to work with the United Nations, which they considered should continue to play the central role in international efforts to achieve a peaceful and lasting settlement to the Afghan crisis. Many criticized the Taliban for its apparent determination to seek a military solution, which, those Governments asserted, was an unachievable and unacceptable option. 

     The report goes on to say that those Governments conveyed their interest in strengthening the role of the "six plus two" group as a means of bringing the parties to the negotiating table and assisting in the search for a lasting political settlement. A reflection of that commitment was the meeting of the group held on 28 February focusing on the issue of illicit drugs.

     Following the acceptance by the Taliban authorities of the deployment of the UNSMA Civil Affairs Unit, the report states, four civil affairs officers have been assigned to Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. The political component of UNSMA will be increased to its full capacity by the end of June, by which time the new Tehran office should have been opened. It was also envisaged that by then the Mission's presence in Kabul will have been enlarged. 

     Although fighting was limited during the reporting period, states the report, it had never come to a complete halt. The flow of weapons and other war-making materials into Afghanistan has continued throughout the period, enabling both sides to prepare for spring offensives. 

     With regard to the humanitarian situation, since the last report there has been an increase in the number of displaced persons in Kabul. The combination of a poor harvest, the tightening of border controls and a harsh winter with little precipitation has exacerbated food insecurity for the majority of Afghans. Those conditions have contributed to the 45 per cent increase in the price of wheat across the country since October 1999. 

     Education in general, and in particular for girls, remains extremely problematic, states the report. While education is one of the priorities for discussion at the Joint Consultative Committee meetings between the Taliban authorities and the United Nations, little progress has been achieved at the policy level. However, non-formal home-based schools for girls and boys have emerged in many locations and are being supported by a number of assistance agencies, including non-governmental organizations. In rural areas, the Taliban is often more responsive to the demands of local communities for formal education. 

     According to the report, a significant characteristic of recent offensives is the deliberate targeting of civilians and the destruction of their assets and means of survival. Civilians continue to be subjected to a wide range of human rights violations. There are continued reports of summary executions, arbitrary detention and forced labour of those in detention. 

     There has been some easing of restrictions in some parts of Afghanistan on the mobility of women and girls, particularly in terms of their access to the limited health care and educational facilities that are available. United Nations agencies are continuing to pursue these and related issues in Joint Consultative Committee discussions and at the local level. 

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    NOTE: A summary of the statements made can be provided upon specific request. Please call 26060/3336.

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