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US Criticizes EU for Slowness in Fulfilling Afghan Aid Commitments - 2002-08-29

The United States Thursday unleashed some rare public criticism of the European Union, accusing it of foot-dragging on fulfilling pledges it made to help on Afghan food and refugee assistance. A senior State Department official warned that unless more help is forthcoming, there could be a flow of hungry refugees into Afghan cities or even back to Pakistan.

Bush administration officials have for some time been critical of the European aid effort in private comments. But the remarks here amounted to the first public rebuke of the European Union for what is seen here as stalling, or reneging outright, on fulfilling aid pledges for Afghanistan.

At a press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State Gene Dewey in charge of refugee, population and migration affairs said flatly that the Europeans are not shouldering a fair share of the Afghan aid burden.

"Our donor-state allies, especially in the European Union, are not doing their fair share," he said. "They are both not generous enough in living up to their financial commitments made at the Tokyo conference in January. And they are not multilateral enough in supporting the U.N. World Food Program with food, and in supporting the U.N. high commissioner for refugees with cash."

Mr. Dewey, just back from visiting Afghanistan, said that because of the shortfall in aid deliveries, aid officials have been forced to reduce from 150 kilograms down to 50 kilograms the size of the food packages given to Afghan refugees as they return home from Pakistan or other countries of asylum.

He warned that when the so-called "welcome packages" run out, the returnees to rural areas could flock to Kabul or other cities he said are already "bursting at the seams" with migrants. Or, he said, they might return to where they know there is help, back to Pakistan and the refugee camps.

Mr. Dewey said he believed European countries would, eventually and with U.S. prodding, make good on all commitments made at the Tokyo conference, which reaped about $4.5 billion in pledges.

However he complained about what he said was a hopelessly-slow European Commission bureaucracy, and also took the EU to task for giving much of its refugee aid to charities outside a joint U.N.-Afghan accountability system.

Mr. Dewey said U.S. food aid delivered to Afghanistan since last October exceeds 250,000 metric tons, about 13 times more than sent by Europe even though they have nominally pledged like amounts.

The remarks here drew immediate criticism from an EU spokeswoman in Brussels, who said the community was spending "enormously" in Afghanistan and that the notion Europe has not been forthcoming is "just not the case."