Press conference with UNAMA Press Officer, Nilab Mobarez
KABUL - Press conference by Nilab Mobarez, Press Officer, UNAMA.
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Good morning everyone and welcome to today’s press conference. I have some announcements from UN agencies and then I will be pleased to take your questions.
UNAMA is sickened by the senseless murder yesterday of Sitara Achikzai who was serving her people with dedication in Kandahar.
Sitara Achikzai was a committed and brave woman who served her country without fear in one of the most volatile areas of Afghanistan.
Those responsible for this callous act have clearly shown their disrespect for true Afghan honour and traditions. There is no justification for such a cowardly act.
UNAMA condemns in the strongest possible terms the vicious and deliberate killing of provincial legislator Sitara Achikzai.
All of those working for the United Nations in Afghanistan are saddened at this killing and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time.
THREE- DAY POLIO IMMUNISATION CAMPAIGN
The latest polio immunisation campaign was launched yesterday in fifteen provinces across the country by the Ministry of Public Health with support from the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
This campaign continues the supplementary immunisation campaigns to provide immunity to stop the circulation of the polio virus inside Afghanistan and importation of the virus from neighbouring countries.
More than 20,000 vaccinators and staff of Ministry of Public Health are engaged for the next two days to give the polio vaccine to almost three million children under the age of five.
Today, we call on all anti-government elements to allow the vaccinators’ access to the children of Nad-e-ali and Nawzad districts in Helmand. These children have the right to be protected from polio.
WFP FOOD DISTRIBUTION FOR MARCH
In March, the World Food Programme helped over 560,000 people with food assistance through their food-for-work programmes, over 30,000 tuberculosis patients and their families with food, nearly 500,000 people through general food distribution programmes, and over 465,000 children received WFP food in schools.
The World Food Programme will support 8.8 million people in Afghanistan during 2009.
Copies of the latest monthly update are available on the side table. The spokesperson for WFP is here today and will be available after this press conference for any questions or interviews.
COMMUNITIES BENEFIT FROM NEW MOBILE HEALTH UNITS
Communities with no previous access to healthcare will be provided with basic health services in remote rural areas.
The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA has introduced 15 mobile health units into 28 districts across Afghanistan.
These mobile health units will ensure that the health services provided by a trained health professional are expanded beyond the confines of a fixed health facility to the whole community.
More remote areas will be covered by these units throughout 2009.
UNHCR VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED
The UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghans through Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan is currently suspended. This began yesterday and is due to routine maintenance. We expect the centre will re-open in the coming days.
Registered Afghans who were planning to visit the Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Peshawar are requested not to approach the centre until further notice.
UNHCR will also inform Afghans once repatriation through Hayatabad, Peshawar resumes.
DROUGHT-AFFECTED FAMILIES RECEIVE ASSISTANCE
Three hundred displaced drought-affected families identified by UNAMA were supported with 30 tonnes or 600 bags of improved seeds in Naw Qishlaq village of Sholgara district in Balkh.
Each family received 100 kilogrammes of seeds, an amount sufficient for 6-7 jiribs of land donated by GTZ and facilitated by UNHCR. Many of them started to plant the seeds immediately to benefit from the current rainfall.
This assistance allows these families to return to their places of origin, cultivate their land and become self-sufficient again.
UNHCR in cooperation with others will continue to strive to find durable solutions for those displaced – both conflict-induced and drought-affected.
IOM HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
IOM Badakshan has assisted 200 vulnerable families with household kits in the Zebak district of Badakshan.
IOM Herat has assisted 270 flood-affected families with household flood kits in the Koshan district of Herat.
The Provincial Disaster Management Committee in Herat has identified 170 flood-affected families in Kohsan and Ghoryan district and IOM has already provided 170 household flood kits to these families which will be distributed over the coming week.
In the north-east, IOM has assisted 320 vulnerable families with winter kits and 320 families with non-food items in the provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan.
ENHANCING BORDER MANAGEMENT IN TAKHAR PROVINCE
Takhar province with great trade potential and as an important route for legitimate trade will soon have a new border management post.
The work on the post has begun at Ai Khanum in the north-east province of Takhar adjoining Tajikistan. This is part of Afghan Government’s efforts to improve border management and boost legal trade.
The establishment of this new post will eventually lead to improved customs control and will increase national revenue collection. It will also tackle drug smuggling and other illicit cross-border activities.
The project will establish crucial infrastructure, including office and accommodation buildings, warehousing and will also train and equip customs officials and border police.
The project is funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by UNOPS, working closely with the Afghan Customs Department in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce.
HIV PREVENTION AND CARE SERVICES TO AFGHAN REFUGEE DRUG USERS
A project for the provision of comprehensive HIV prevention and care services to Afghan refugee drug users in Iran and Pakistan and returnees in Afghanistan has now been launched.
The project aims to develop and sustain a sub-regional initiative to strengthen and ensure continuity of HIV prevention and care services to Afghan refugee injecting and non-injecting drug users in Iran and Pakistan and returnees in Afghanistan.
This initiative will be established among the governments of the three countries and in close cooperation with the ministries of Counter Narcotics and Refugees and Repatriation as well as UNHCR, IOM and UNAIDS. This will enable the provision of comprehensive HIV services for Afghan refugees across national borders and in areas hosting large populations of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran and returnee hosting areas in Afghanistan.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
NOOR TV [translated from Dari]: There are concerns regarding insecurity in a number of districts throughout the country. According to some sources, around 156 districts are insecure. With all this insecurity, will it be possible to hold elections throughout the country?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Your question has occupied a number of minds recently. It is premature at this stage to predict whether the insecurity will continue or not as the elections approach. However, what we want to emphasis is that all actors, including the international community and the Afghan Government are putting all their efforts together to make the elections happen in a safe and secure way throughout the country. We stress again that the international community has committed itself to working with Afghan institutions to provide security for the elections.
AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: My first question is about the reason for the closure of the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation centre. And my second question is about the budget of the World Food Programme – what is the budget that they need?
UNAMA [translated from Pashto]: On your first question, the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghans through Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan is temporarily closed from yesterday due routine maintenance.
On your second question, there will be 8.8 million people provided with food assistance through the World Food Programme during 2009. Among many reasons to provide assistance to more people compared to last year was the higher food prices and the drought seen last year in Afghanistan.
The volume of food to be distributed is around 317,000 metric tons. On the budget side it is worth mentioning that WFP still needs US$14.4 million to be resourced to the end of the year, although WFP has received enough resources to cover the food portion of the July 2008 Joint Appeal for high food prices and drought mitigation.
RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: My question is about elections. Yesterday some candidates expressed their concern over the lack of transparency in the voter registration process and they said that the government apparatus could be misused further. What is UNAMA's position on this and do you have any programmes to observe the elections?
UNAMA [translated from Pashto]: As you know, the Independent Election Commission will run these elections. It is very important to note that this time neither the UN nor the Joint Electoral Management Body will manage the elections. The United Nations are helping the Independent Election Commission in these elections. UNAMA also has an election unit that will work with political parties, observers, civil society organisations and other groups and institutions to promote an environment conducive to successful elections. We want these elections to be transparent, fair and credible. We tell all Afghans that these elections are for you – these elections are for the development of Afghanistan.
NEGAH TV [translated from Dari]: There are reports indicating that the Taliban directly or indirectly rules 50 percent of Afghan territory. I just wanted to know if UNAMA confirm these figures or not.
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: I do not know about the source of these figures. We will not comment on these figures, apart from to say and others will also agree with me that this figure is exaggerated. I do not think this is right and we will not confirm these kinds of exaggerated figures.
IRNA [translated from Farsi]: Does UNAMA think that there will be an understanding or agreement on the Shia Personal Status Law? Since UNAMA is an approving angle in this triangle, on the other angles are the Government of Afghanistan, and on the other, there are other international organisations. Is there possibility of an agreement or understanding on this issue?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As you said this issue has caused debate inside and outside of Afghanistan. The United Nations is seriously concerned about this issue. The rights of all Afghans are the very reason we are here. There are concerns over certain provisions that do not conform to international obligations, in particular under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and whether it conforms to Afghanistan's Constitution.
You also know that the President has ordered a review of this law. At this stage, we will wait for findings from the relevant authorities asked by the President to review the law. We look forward to seeing these findings. We will not comment further than that at this stage.
RADIO KILLID [translated from Dari]: In an interview with Agence France Presse, the head of the CIA said that US President Barack Obama has instructed them to close down all its prisons across the world. Is there any such prison in Afghanistan and does Bagram prison come under this category?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: I think this is really a question that you should address to the CIA or the US administration. You all know that Bagram is under the control of the coalition forces. As you are also aware, the US President Barack Obama has ordered to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. The United Nations has welcomed this decision of the US administration and hope that the same will happen to the Bagram prison in due course.
SADAI AFGHAN [translated from Dari]: What is your opinion on the mass graves and the perpetrators of these crimes and the fact that the President Karzai has said recently that the people should not think about the past but about the future? In addition, regarding the assassination of the legislator in Kandahar, who do you think is responsible for her murder?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: On your first question, unfortunately, horrible things have happened in the past in Afghanistan and mass graves are among them. UNAMA and UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit is working closely with all relevant actors including Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigation Department and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
We are also providing forensic expertise in the form of an international forensic consultant. As you know this is part of UNAMA’s mandate to support Afghan institutions to help them with these issues.
On your other question, we do not know who murdered Sitara Achikzai, but to whoever committed this crime it is a cowardly and unacceptable act and we strongly condemn it. We urge the government of Afghanistan to bring those responsible to justice.
TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: You just mentioned about a border management post that is going to be constructed. This is only one post in the north-east province – what about the other borders areas of the country? And do you have information on smuggling and trafficking through these borders?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Regarding the border post in frontier provinces, we have such posts in other provinces, but there was not one in Takhar province.
This is a new border management post at Ai Khanem in the north-east province of Takhar adjoining Tajikistan, part of an Afghan Government effort to improve border management and boost legal trade. This is a big project and if such initiatives are increased in the future, we will let you know. Thank you all.