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US Pledges Continued Support for Afghan Refugees - 2001-08-01

A senior U.S official has pledged continuing American humanitarian support for Afghan refugees living in camps in Pakistan. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca made the pledge Wednesday while visiting the squalid Jalozai camp near Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan.

Since the middle of last year about 200,000 Afghan refugees have entered Pakistan, fleeing the worst drought in memory and the civil war in their homeland. Many of them have ended up in the squalid Jalozai camp on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Christina Rocca is the first high-level U.S. official to visit the makeshift facility, where more than 70,000 Afghans are living in poor and unhealthy conditions. She reached out to several Afghan women at a medical clinic in the camp and listened to their troubles.

Ms. Rocca told reporters at the camp that her country is contributing more than $132 million this year to try to help the war and drought stricken people of Afghanistan. "The President (Bush) has just authorized another $6.2 million for Afghan refugees, which we are happy about," she said. "And we are the largest bilateral donor. The American people are very happy to help the Afghan people in this time of crisis."

The United States has come under considerable criticism by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement for its role in initiating U.N. sanctions against the war torn country. The U.N. Security Council sanctions are meant to force the Taleban to surrender Saudi-militant Osama bin Laden, who is wanted on terrorism charges in the United States.

U.S. officials maintain that the sanctions are intended to target the Taleban leadership and not the people, but prices have significantly increased in Afghanistan since the tightening of the sanctions in January.

Ms. Rocca is due to meet with senior Taleban representatives Thursday in Pakistan. A U.N. Security Council decision to deploy sanctions monitors in countries bordering Afghanistan is expected to dominate the discussions.

Ms. Rocca is in Pakistan on the last leg of a South Asian tour. She met Tuesday with senior Pakistani leaders, including military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan, a strong Taleban supporter, has also criticized the U.N. sanctions against Afghanistan. But a government statement released late Wednesday says Pakistan would extend cooperation with the international community in a monitoring effort.