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UNHCR Chief Urges Extension of UN Afghan Security Mandate - 2002-02-08

Another senior U.N. official is calling for an expansion of the peace-keeping operation in Afghanistan. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers says increased security is critical to getting aid to those who need it most.

Wednesday, the U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan urged the Security Council to expand peace-keeping operations in that country. Last week, the leader of the new interim government in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, asked for the same thing.

Now, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers is stressing that security is a paramount concern. Without it, aid cannot be delivered and refugees cannot return home.

Speaking at U.N. headquarters, Mr. Lubbers pointed out that Afghans comprise the largest single refugee population in the world. There are more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees living mostly in Pakistan and Iran. In recognizing that fact, Mr. Lubbers advocated the expansion of the security mandate. "I therefore strongly support the position taken by Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday, here, to extend the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul," he said.

Mr. Lubbers also considered the global campaign to root out terrorism. He strongly advocated the efforts now underway, but cautioned against targeting people who are victims. "In taking new counter-terrorism measures, we must ensure that governments avoid making unwarranted linkages between refugees and terrorism," he said. "Genuine refugees are themselves the victims of persecution and terrorism, not its perpetrators. Innocent people must not be deprived of their basic rights." Mr. Lubbers also noted that while Afghanistan is receiving the bulk of international attention, refugees in Africa are as large a concern. He said successful operations are seeing large numbers of refugees returning to Eritrea and Somalia.

He also pointed out that in the Balkans, more than two-million people forced to flee during the past decade have returned home.