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WFP to the Taleban: Stop the Accusations - 2001-08-23

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is calling on the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan to stop accusing its aid workers of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The agency says the charges are harming WFP humanitarian operations in the country.

The World Food Program says the allegations against its staff in Afghanistan are baseless.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the Taleban authorities are accusing the agency of spreading, what it calls, religious propaganda. She says these accusations stem from WFP's association with a private German aid organization, Shelter Now. The Taleban accuse that group of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. It has arrested eight foreigners and 16 Afghans who have been working with Shelter Now. Ms. Berthiaume says Taleban assertions that WFP is linked to religious conversions are completely false.

"We have never been involved in propagating any religious persuasion either in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world," Ms. Berthiaume says. "WFP is committed, strongly committed, to the U.N. principles of impartiality and neutrality. We provide help to Afghan people solely on the basis of needs, without any religious, political, or ethnic bias."

The private German group, Shelter Now, has been helping WFP distribute food to thousands of hungry people in Afghanistan. It is one of 150 private aid agencies with whom WFP works.

Ms. Berthiaume says WFP cannot be responsible for all the activities undertaken by its aid partners in Afghanistan. "We are helping three million people in that country," she says. "So, we are calling on the Taleban to help us achieve this task, which is a very difficult and important one, and stop obstructing our work."

Afghanistan is living through its third consecutive year of drought. The United Nations estimates 12 million people, one-half of Afghanistan's population, is affected by the drought.

WFP is feeding three million of those most threatened. Last year, Ms. Berthiaume says Shelter Now distributed 2,000 tons of food out of a total of 140,000 tons.

She says continued harassment of humanitarian workers by the Taleban could have serious consequences for the millions of people who rely on international aid for their survival.