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Taliban Pledge Safety for Humanitarian Workers, UN Says

FILE - Martin Griffiths, United Nations' Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

The United Nations humanitarian chief met Sunday with leaders of the Taliban, who pledged to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and aid access in Afghanistan, a U.N. spokesman said.

Martin Griffiths was in the Afghan capital on Sunday and is to have several days of meetings with Taliban leadership amid a looming humanitarian disaster in the country newly under the control of the hardline Islamists.

"The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers — both men and women — will be guaranteed freedom of movement," a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Griffiths reiterated in the meeting that the humanitarian community was committed to delivering "impartial and independent humanitarian assistance," the statement added.

He also called on all parties to ensure the rights and safety of women, both those contributing to aid delivery and civilians. Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule.

The Taliban delegation, led by the group's co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, thanked U.N. officials for the "promised continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people" and assured them "of cooperation and provision of needed facilities," according to a statement posted on Twitter by Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.

The U.N. says Afghanistan is mired in a humanitarian crisis affecting 18 million people, or half the population.

Even before the Taliban ousted the Western-backed government on August 15, Afghanistan was heavily aid-dependent, with 40% of the country's GDP drawn from foreign funding.

But the future of aid missions in the country under the Taliban has been a source of concern for the U.N. and aid groups, despite Taliban pledges of a softer brand of rule than during their first stint in power. Many Afghans doubt the reliability of their pledges and many countries are taking a wait and see approach.

Several relief organizations have previously confirmed to AFP they were in talks with the Taliban to continue their operations or have received security guarantees for existing programs.

The U.N. said this week humanitarian flights had resumed to several Afghan provinces.