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U.N. Refugee Agency Returns to Afghanistan

November 24, 2001|From Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it had reestablished its presence in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif--where there have been unconfirmed reports of atrocities--as well as in the capital, Kabul.

"We have, as I speak now, three international staff on the ground in Kabul. We still have a very tight ceiling of 20 international U.N. staff for the city of Kabul. So we have to stay in that ceiling and, sharing with other agencies, as security improves we can expand our presence," said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees coordinator Filippo Grandi.

He said the humanitarian situation in Kabul was fragile.

"From my experience, we were literally confined in the limits of the city. Human assistance is limited. The situation is very fragile," said Grandi, who had just returned to Islamabad from Kabul.

"If security does not improve, we will not be able to have direct access to the population."

The Northern Alliance captured Mazar-i-Sharif on Nov. 9 and Kabul four days later.

There have been unconfirmed reports of summary executions and abductions after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said this week that as many as 600 bodies had been found in Mazar-i-Sharif after its capture by the Northern Alliance.

A Red Cross spokeswoman could not say whether they had been executed or killed in the fighting.

Thousands of people have been displaced in Afghanistan because of the fighting. Many have tried to flee to neighboring Pakistan, but Islamabad has ordered the border closed.

"This is our top priority, to stabilize these people, refugees returning back to Kabul," Grandi said.

He said the refugee agency hoped to establish a presence in the western city of Herat soon.

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