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Security Problems Prevent Afghan Refugees from Returning  Home, says UN Official - 2004-04-18


The head of the United Nations' refugee agency says security in Afghanistan is still inadequate and is asking the international community to increase its presence in the country.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers says lingering security problems in post-war Afghanistan are preventing some refugees from returning.

"The first requirement for repatriation is confidence in the security in this country," said Mr. Lubbers. "And there we think more has to be done."

Mr. Lubbers praised U.N. member states for generous financial pledges to Afghanistan at last month's international conference in Berlin, but says military commitments also need to increase.

He says that problems such as Afghanistan's ongoing armed insurgency in the south and east are receiving less attention due to other needs in Iraq and parts of Africa.

"The problem is that the international community has so many other things," he said. "They think that Afghanistan is going all right."

Speaking Sunday during a trip to Afghanistan, Mr. Lubbers called for an expansion of the NATO-led peacekeeping force there.

The peacekeeping mission, numbering about 6,000, is based primarily in the capital Kabul but is beginning to increase its presence in the countryside.

Afghanistan continues to see attacks on its security forces and aid workers, as well as factional fighting among rival militia commanders in remote provinces.

Mr. Lubbers says better security, along with more efforts to improve human rights, would encourage more of the 3.5 million Afghan refugees to return.

Since the end of the 2001 war, which ousted Afghanistan's former Taleban regime, the United Nations has repatriated about three million Afghans from camps in Pakistan and Iran.

Mr. Lubbers believes another one million refugees will likely return this year.

He also called on the Afghan government to set aside some public lands for returnees, especially for groups such as teachers, which are in short supply.

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