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Closing Afghan Airspace Could Intensify Human Rights Abuse - 2001-08-30

The president of the United Nations Security Council says a threat by the Taleban to close most of Afghanistan's airspace could aggravate an already disastrous humanitarian situation.

After a closed-door meeting, Security Council President Alfonso Valdiviezo of Colombia told reporters the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is currently the worst in the world. Hundreds of thousand of Afghans now rely on international food aid.

The ruling Taleban movement, angry about U.N. sanctions against the Afghan national airline, is now threatening to ban international flights into the more than 90 percent of the country it controls. According to Mr. Valdiviezo, if such a ban were imposed, the humanitarian situation could become even worse.

"It could be a very difficult situation for the humanitarian relief aid that is being provided because most of it moves by air," he said. "We will see what happens but we, the Security Council, are trying to get the Afghans what they need. The humanitarian crisis, as we have said in a statement, is the worst in the world."

Mr. Valdiviezo also said members of the Security Council are unanimous in deploring Taleban restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid, especially the recent detention of Afghan and international relief personnel.

Twenty-four aid workers, including eight foreigners, have been in Taleban custody for three weeks with some accused of promoting Christianity, an activity forbidden under the strict form of Islam practiced by the Taleban.

The U.N. Security Council is now considering what is described as a "comprehensive" approach to Afghanistan. Rather than consider issues such as humanitarian aid, human rights abuses and terrorism in isolation, the idea is to develop some kind of overall strategy to convince the Taleban to cooperate with the international community.