Innocent Afghan civilians should not be punished for the actions of their government, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan has said.
In a statement at UN headquarters he warned of a major humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. "The world is united against terrorism," he said. "Let it be equally united in protecting and assisting the innocent victims of emergencies and disasters."
Describing the plight of Afghanistan's civilian population as "desperate", Mr Annan continued: "More than two decades of conflict, seven years of oppressive rule by the Taliban regime, and three years of severe drought have left more than five million people dependent on foreign aid for their very survival."
Now, tragically, that aid had been interrupted and in an implicit warning to Taliban elements who were reportedly withholding food supplies from starving people and attacking or impeding humanitarian relief workers, Mr Annan said those engaged in such activities should know that "the international community will hold them responsible".
Many Afghans were trying to flee the country but found it difficult to cross the borders: "In accordance with international law, the borders must be open to civilians seeking refuge. At the same time the international community must send swift and generous help, so that refugees do not become an impossible burden on the neighboring states."
Mr Annan was echoing the concern expressed by other UN officials including the head of humanitarian coordination in Geneva, Mr Ross Mountain, who warned that the number of Afghans desperately needing UN aid could increase by 50 percent, to 7.5 million.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) said it was resuming food shipments to northern and western Afghanistan despite the seizure of 1,400 metric tons of food stocks by Taliban officials in Kandahar over the weekend. The WFP strongly condemned the seizure and called on the Taliban to ensure the safety of UN workers and food stocks.
In a funding appeal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Ruud Lubbers, said his agency was preparing for an influx of up to one million refugees into Pakistan, 400,000 into Iran, 50,000 into Tajikistan, and 50,000 into Turkmenistan. Contingency plans are also being made to supply aid to half a million people inside Afghanistan, if the need arises.
At UN headquarters it is understood that a draft resolution on terrorism may be discussed by the Security Council before the weekend. It is believed the text may include provision for sanctions against countries which do not implement internationally-agreed mechanisms for preventing and suppressing terrorism, such as the sharing of intelligence information, the blockage of funding to terrorist organizations, and legal action against those who provide shelter and assistance to terrorists.
Meanwhile the Secretary-general has welcomed the decision by the US Congress to authorize payment of $582 million in partial settlement of dues owed to the UN. Looking to the future, the Secretary-general expressed the hope that "all outstanding financial issues between the United States and the United Nations can be resolved as soon as possible, in order to put this issue behind us once and for all".
Referring to developments in the Middle East, Mr Annan warmly welcomed the meeting between the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Shimon Peres and the Palestinian President, Mr Yasser Arafat.
He said he was "extremely pleased that the parties have agreed to resume full security cooperation and to exert maximum efforts to sustain the ceasefire".
Mr Annan hoped that the meeting "will result in a sustainable dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and that the current cycle of violence can be brought to an end and the peace process can be resumed".
© 2001 ireland.com