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UNHCR: Efforts Need to Ensure Safety of Returning Afghans - 2002-01-22

United Nations relief agencies say they are encouraged by the pledge of over $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan. But there are security concerns as tribal warlords fight each other and looting continues. Security, education and the return of skilled people to Afghanistan top the list of priorities.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said after decades of fighting, Afghanistan is in desperate need of reconstruction.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski has says some four million Afghans live outside the country, while over one million are internally displaced. He says if these people are to return home eventually, then serious efforts must be made to rebuild the country and ensure safety.

"The more that is done inside Afghanistan and the better the infrastructure is, the more is done to fix the country, then the more likely it is that these people will ever go back to Afghanistan," he said.

U.N. agencies have said the key to rebuilding the battle-scarred infrastructure is the return of Afghan professionals who had been living in exile for many years. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the agency facilitating their return.

One of the first to be helped to return by the IOM is Abdul Hamid Mobarez, who is due in Kabul Tuesday to become the Deputy Minister of Culture and Information.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said these highly-skilled people will train badly-needed Afghan professionals working in finance, health and education.

"The demand from the ministry of education is for people who will be able to train teachers throughout Afghanistan. As you know in Afghanistan, the ratio of teachers to pupils is extremely low. There are few teachers around and it is vitally important that these people return now and that they start the job and they start training other professionals," he said.

Re-establishing security is important in a country where warlords are feuding and looting is rampant. The U.N. World Food Program said gunmen attacked one of its warehouses twice last week and looted 40 tons of food intended for the drought-hit north of the country.

Mr. Chauzy of the IOM said aid efforts are already hampered by winter snow and rain. He said, security must be ensured to keep relief flowing.

"The last thing Afghanistan needs at the moment is for warlords to Balkanize the country and make relief efforts even more complicated," he said.

Political observers fear that without security in place in Afghanistan, reconstruction may not be possible.