United Nations agencies are beginning to move their foreign staff back into Afghanistan as they push to increase humanitarian aid deliveries before the onset of winter. U.N. relief agencies had evacuated their international staff from Afghanistan soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The resident coordinator for the World Health Organization is returning to his post in Afghanistan on Saturday. Officials from the United Nations refugee agency and the Organization for International Migration, OIM, also will be returning.

OIM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said "it's high time that the local staff, which has been performing quite splendidly over the last few months, gets the assistance from the international staffers."

Foreign aid workers are moving back into Afghanistan to jump start what aid workers say could be one of the most challenging humanitarian efforts since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Ron Redmond of the U.N. refugee agency said the agency's local Afghan staff members are resuming their activities.

He hailed the return of UNHCR's four female Afghan staff members to the Kabul office. The Taleban had barred them from relief work in the capital five years ago.

He said that as security permits, UNHCR will quickly re-establish its international presence throughout Afghanistan. "Recent territorial gains by the Northern Alliance have created the potential for wide-scale aid deliveries to northern Afghanistan, reducing fear of a humanitarian crisis, at least in some of those areas, during the winter," he said. "But we remain very concerned about a possible influx of new refugees into Pakistan, especially from southern areas of Afghanistan."

However, he discounted any large-scale return of Afghans from either Pakistan or Iran at this moment. "We do not envisage, for example, a Kosovo-style rush to go back," he said. "The infrastructure, the winter, the continuing insecurity: all of these things will probably prohibit that. UNHCR is launching what we call a mass information program aimed at the refugee population, and that will be providing them with regularly updated information on conditions in possible areas of return inside Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Commission expert on extra-judicial executions, Asma Jahangir, called for an independent investigation of reported executions of large numbers of unarmed civilians.