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UN Suspends Afghan Food Convoys - 2001-10-08

The United Nations World Food Program has suspended its food convoys into Afghanistan as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the group's workers. U.N. aid agencies are assessing what they are able to do now that air strikes have begun against Taleban targets in Afghanistan.

Officials at the World Food Program say that once they have a clearer picture of what is happening inside Afghanistan, they hope to resume deliveries of food as soon as possible. They say millions of people are depending on it for survival.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the agency, so far, has been able to stay in contact with its workers. "This morning we talked with our staff in Kabul and they were doing redistribution," she said. "They had done some redistribution to women and we told them, 'Today, stay home. Just stay home and we'll see.'"

Over a week ago, the World Food Program had begun moving about 500 tons of food a day into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Even that amount fell far short of the 2,000 tons the U.N. agency estimates is necessary to feed all those in need.

Even though the food convoys have been suspended because of the air strikes, Ms. Berthiaume says the WFP is still looking for ways to get food into Afghanistan. She says the agency plans to air drop food to Afghans living in areas that will be inaccessible during the coming winter months.

Meanwhile, another U.N. agency is also expressing concern about the safety of its staff in the region. On Monday, the office of the U.N. refugee agency in Quetta, Pakistan, was stoned by anti-American demonstrators. None of the staff was hurt, but the building's windows were shattered by stones. The agency reports the protesters also set fire to the nearby office of the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.

Officials of the U.N.'s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, say they are monitoring reports of anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan, where the agency has many camps set up to care for Afghan refugees.

A spokeswoman for the UNHCR, Millicent Matuli, says agency workers have to be able to move about freely if they are to carry out their mission to help the refugees. Ms. Matuli says the biggest concern now is that fleeing refugees be allowed into neighboring countries. "We are appealing to them to take a softer stance to allow in Afghan people fleeing for safety and to offer them temporary protection," she said.

But at least one of those neighboring countries, Iran, is taking measures to prevent refugees from entering. Iran's official news agency said on Monday that Tehran has sent thousands of extra troops to seal its 900 kilometer long border with Afghanistan.

Instead of allowing the refugees into Iranian territory, the agency says Iran's Red Crescent Society and the U.N. refugee agency are setting up camps along the border to care for the refugees.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates that as many as 400,000 Afghans could try to head to Iran.