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UN Receives Pledges of $600 Million in Aid for Afghan Refugees - 2001-10-06

A United Nations donors meeting to aid Afghan refugees has wrapped up in Geneva with pledges of about $600 million for Afghanistan's seven million people on the brink of starvation and possible war. The U.N. refugee agency says Iran and Pakistan may now be willing to open their borders to more refugees.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, says he is encouraged by the support he found at the meeting which included representatives from the United States, Iran, Pakistan and various U.N. agencies to aid the people of Afghanistan.

An appeal 10 days ago by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for $584 million has been met, but some contributions must still be approved by national parliaments.

Mr. Lubbers says both a short-term emergency plan and a longer-term program for the return of displaced Afghans in neighboring Iran and Pakistan were discussed. "I am glad to report that although the borders are formally closed, they are open for the most vulnerable and they will be open if there are bigger numbers and it's a real necessity. The intention is to make it temporary and then to promote people to go back," he said.

Mr. Lubbers says Iran and Pakistan gave assurances that about 3.5 million displaced Afghans living in their countries for the past 20 years would not be deported during this critical time.

The assistant head of the World Food Program, Mohamed Zejjari, says that U.N. agencies are coordinating efforts to increase the amount of food going into Afghanistan, from 30,000 tons to 52,000 tons a month. He says that food is now being delivered by road, but air drops may become necessary, especially for those in remote areas. "Security is extremely important, and no air drops will be made if there is no minimum level of security. We will be seeking all the necessary accommodations in the due course of time," he said.

None of the representatives specified what security measures would be taken to ensure that the food and relief supplies make it to the Afghan people.

The U.S. representative to the meeting, Douglas Hunter, says the United States is seeking better conditions for the Afghan people and has pledged an additional $320 million for their humanitarian aid. Mr. Hunter says, however, that it is not clear whether the United States will provide logistical support to the humanitarian operation. "We have always cooperated with the United Nations in the past in terms of providing logistical support in the Balkans, in eastern Zaire, in other places," he said. "But I would have to say, not speaking for my military colleagues, that that is not their primary mission and the use of assets of the military for humanitarian purposes would only be offered if it could be done within the rest of our responsibilities."

Afghanistan's population had faced the worst drought in three decades and 23 years of armed conflict before September's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The country's ruling Taleban government is believed to provide sanctuary to the chief suspect in the attacks, Osama bin Laden.