Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

8 Jun 2009

Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit and Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

Dari - Pashto

At around midnight on Saturday 6 June the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s office (FAO) in Kunduz city was attacked by six armed men.

A rocket propelled grenade was fired at the compound injuring two guards, thankfully their injuries are not life threatening and all UN staff are safe and well.

While the motive of the attack remains unclear it is matter of great concern that anyone would target our office.

FAO is helping the farmers of Kunduz to rehabilitate their agricultural lands, reap their harvests and feed their families.

We know that the farmers and people of Kunduz will join us in wanting to send a strong message to those behind this attack that they must stop and recognize the impartiality of the UN’s work in delivering essential assistance to the people of Kunduz.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) will formally communicate to the Independent Election Commission tomorrow, 9 June, its decision on which candidates it will disqualify from contesting the forthcoming elections.

The ECC Commissioners will hold a press conference here tomorrow at 2pm to which you are all invited.

Today the first convoy of 84 families of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is being prepared to leave the Zari-e-Dasht camp in Kandahar for their places of origin in the north western province of Faryab and western provinces of Badghis and Herat.

This is the first convoy of returning IDPs this year.

A total of 987 families have been registered to return to their places of origin in the northern region in the next few weeks.

As the interest for returning back home has gained momentum this year, it’s hoped this first convoy of 2009 will encourage further returns over the coming months.

The return operation is jointly facilitated by the Department of Refugees and Repatriation, UNHCR, WFP and IOM.

Interest in return to other provinces in the west, south and south east regions has also been expressed by IDPs who are currently residing in Zari-e-Dasht camp.

For further information please collect a press release from the side table.

The plight of Internally Displaced Persons is top of the agenda for forty Afghan officials who are receiving training on the needs of IDPs according to international standards and requirements.

This training is designed to help national authorities and other partners to develop an appropriate response to protect the rights of IDPs and help find solutions for their needs.

Since flooding began in Afghanistan the World Food Programme has so far provided emergency food assistance to 70,000 people with distributions ongoing, mainly in the northern and western regions, but also in the central highlands.

In parts of Balkh and Badakhshan food relief is in place to be distributed once the roads become accessible.

Food-for-Work activities are being established to help repair infrastructure damaged caused by the flooding.

These include rebuilding roads, irrigation channels and river banks.

UNICEF plans this year to establish two more therapeutic feeding units in Shahristan and Khedir districts of Dai Kundi for malnourished children.

One unit was already established in 2007 at the Nili Hospital, the capital of Dai Kundi province.

This is all a response to the high number of malnourished children who have been reported by health centres across the province.

UNICEF will also train six health workers (three doctors and three nurses) in Kabul.

In addition UNICEF will provide other equipment and nutritional supplies such as high protein biscuits, dry milk and other micro nutrients.

The aim is to help reduce under-five mortality in Dai Kundi.

Family planning as a means to reducing maternal mortality is the focus of work by the United Nations Population Fund in Afghanistan this week with an emphasis on safe motherhood.

UNFPA is supporting the establishment of family planning centres across Afghanistan.

Already one is operating in Mazar and the Rabia Balkhi Hospital in Kabul and another one is planned in Jalalabad.

In addition training for health workers from Dai Kundi, Logar and Bamyan is currently taking place at the Ministry of Public Health with the support of UNFPA.

The health workers will be able to provide counselling and raise awareness on family planning at the community level and will also train health workers and service providers in the provinces.

A reminder for you that Afghanistan is ranked second in the world and first in Asia for the highest maternal mortality rate.
Worldwide researchers estimate that universal access to family planning could save the lives of about 175,000 women each year.

Increasing birth intervals to at least 36 months could also prevent the deaths of 1.8 million children under the age of five.

Road improvements in Uruzgan are due to help connect 4,500 more people in the province and improve access to Tirin Kot.

As a result an additional 5.5 km of roads will be improved in the villages of Safidkhar, Sofian and Aabbordeh as part of the Government of Afghanistan’s rural roads programme.

Up to 20,000 labour days will be created for the local communities carrying out the work.

The project is part of national rural access programme that has already rehabilitated nearly 10,000 km of roads since 2002.

The project in Uruzgan will be completed by March 2010 and follows a tripartite agreement signed with UNOPS, the Governments of Afghanistan and Australia through the Australian Agency for International Development.

The development of Bamyan is top of the agenda this Wednesday and Thursday where the future of the province will be discussed.

Key is to improve coordination and decision making and to identify criteria for the implementation of development projects.

All this takes place at the second national working group meeting on Bamyan Development, 10–11 June 2009.

It is a follow up to the previously successful 2008 Development Conference which highlighted the priorities and needs of the province to relevant ministries and the donor community.

Following last year’s conference the National Working Group was set up to follow development in Bamyan: the plan for the relocation of the airport is moving forward, New Zealand’s aid agency approved a US$ 1.5 million eco-tourism project for Bamyan, the city plan is being implemented and works on road construction has accelerated and new places for returnee settlements were identified.

The aim this year is to identify concrete follow up action points for 2009-2010 and approve plans and projects in the national budget for 2009-2010 for Bamyan province.

We’d like to invite you to a Local Procurement Conference and Trade Fair at the Serena Hotel on Wednesday, 10 June at 08.30am.

The aim of the event is to launch the Local Procurement Initiative that will promote the local procurement of goods and services by international organizations in Afghanistan.

This will also help build the Afghan economy and provide employment to the local community.

The conference is jointly hosted by UNAMA and the Peace Dividend Trust, and it will be attended by the United Nations SRSG Kai Eide, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the Minister of Economy Dr Shams.

UNAMA and Radio Afghanistan will be launching a new weekly radio show at 8 am this Saturday, 13 June.

The news and current affairs programme is called “Afghanistan Today” and it’s produced by our very own Jamil Danish.

We’re also happy to announce our new UNAMA Elections website.

Please go to the UNAMA website and click on the Elections banner on the right hand side of the page.

This will take you to the latest news and also easy to use links to key documents and organizations.


RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: As you know a number of Afghans are concerned about the names of some of the candidates who are accused of being warlords or accused of human rights violations. The Independent Election Commission is about to announce the final list of candidates on the 12 June. I’d like to know what UNAMA would do or what UNAMA would suggest to the Independent Election Commission in order to remove these concerns of these people?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: It is the responsibility of the Electoral Complaints Commission and also the Independent Election Commission to decide as they are the entities holding the elections for this year and of course we will try to support the people and Afghanistan’s institutions as our role is to support and provide support, and we hope that this election will be favourable to all the people of Afghanistan and their experience to their future.

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Our advice and our hope is that the Independent Election Commission and other electoral authorities in this country will implement the electoral law of this country in rolling out this year’s elections. We are the first to recognize that some people will have concerns about the backgrounds of some of the candidates who are standing in this year’s elections. Our advice to the Afghan people is if you have such concerns about the background of any candidates – don’t vote for them. When you’re in the ballot booth, making your vote is between you and your ballot paper. Vote for your family, vote for your country.

RAH-E-FARDA [translated from Dari]: The Parliament of Afghanistan went on leave without approving the Electoral Law. What is UNAMA’s reaction to that?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: Regarding the laws, as you know when new laws are not approved or ratified, normally the previous or former laws can be used. And this is the case with the Electoral Law. If you have more questions regarding that, you can ask our colleagues from the Electoral Complaints Commission at the press conference that they will hold tomorrow.

SABA TV: Yesterday the Ministry of Defence said that there are ten insecure districts in the country and the ministry has no control over those districts. They also said that there is no need to take control of those districts. But the people in those districts are concerned that they will not be able to take part in the elections. What is your view on this? And secondly, the candidates against whom people have filed complaints are not responding to people’s complaints. What is your stand in this regard?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: We are sure that the Government is determined to ensure security across the country so people can cast their votes. But the reality is that ten districts are insecure. Only one to two per cent of those eligible to vote live in these ten districts. We hope that security can be ensured in these ten districts. However, if this is not possible then only two per cent will not be able to vote but the absolute majority of the people, 98 per cent, will be able to exercise their right. We hope those who have the right to vote and live in secure areas go to the polls and cast their votes.

About those candidates challenged, they still have until the end of today to provide a response to challenges filed against them. The Independent Election Commission will decide on the fate of those candidates.

NEGAA TV [translated from Dari]: Internally Displaced Persons used to claim in the past that there are no possibilities for them to live in their places of origin. Giving them a sack of wheat will not solve their problems. What long-term solution do you have for them?

Secondly a number of Afghan refugees have been arrested in connection with the attacks in Zahidan in Iran. I would like to know your reaction to this.

UNHCR, NADER FARHAD [translated from Dari]: Our efforts are not only concentrated on sending IDPs to the places of their origin but we are also looking for long-term solutions. One of the solutions that we have discussed with the Afghan authorities is the reintegration of IDPs in the areas where they live now. This can be a solution especially for those who came from the southern provinces in 2001 and have been living here for eight years.

On the Zahidan issue we do not have concrete information about this incident. Assessment needs to be done to determine who they are, are they registered Afghan refugees, whether or not they are arrested? If they are refugees, UNHCR’s role is clear and it will interfere and defend their rights so they are set free.

TAMADUN TV [translated from Dari]: Yesterday the World Bank issued a report for the first time showing that corruption had decreased in Afghanistan, yet people claim it is on the rise. How does UNAMA see this issue?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: Whenever the World Bank or other United Nations’ organizations release such reports they are based on facts, figures and documents and we consider this latest report as good news. On 4 June they also issued a press release on their new strategy for Afghanistan and you could consult that for more information.

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDIDQUE: If I may just add that we all recognize that corruption is a real issue here in Afghanistan. It undermines the efforts of both the Afghan Government and international community who are trying to push ahead with progress for the Afghan people. Wherever we see corruption what we see are the symptoms of bad governance. Corruption is essentially a symptom of bad, weak or poor governance. The cure to corruption is to increase the governance capacity of Afghan state institutions, to build the rule of law, to build the state institutions so the correct procedures and checks and balances are in place to prevent corruption.

Our own Special Representative Kai Eide has been very clear about the importance of rebuilding Afghanistan’s state institutions with a huge programme to build up the state institutions so that we can prevent corruption. The Afghan Government recognizes this point well and we have seen significant strides from the Afghan Government in key ministries over the last year. We want to build on that progress and continue the process of reform so that we can remove the scourge of corruption from all of our efforts in delivering progress for the Afghan people.

SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: In the ten districts which remain insecure you mentioned that only one or two per cent of the people eligible to vote are living there. If the elections are held and if these one or two per cent of the people do not vote then are they not valuable enough? Do you think such an election would be transparent and fair?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: While we are sure the Afghan authorities will make every effort to provide people in these districts with an opportunity to vote, the reality of Afghanistan’s security situation means that there is likely to be some districts beyond the reach of the IEC. However it’s important to note that these will be a minority of Afghanistan’s 378 districts and it is unlikely to affect the overall legitimacy of the poll as these districts represent no more than one to two per cent of Afghanistan’s electorate.

Also we mentioned those who have registered and we encourage them and we call on them to use their rights and vote in these elections. Also we hope that those who are in insecure areas should vote. We add that at this point nobody can predict if all those districts will stay insecure or not

I am very grateful to you for asking this question because it is a proof that the people of Afghanistan are willing and determined to participate in the democratic process of their country and willing to vote.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: My question is regarding the ten insecure districts. Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence clearly said that in order to make efforts to regain those ten districts, they will only choose two districts and that the rest are not so important and that no efforts need to be made to retake them. What are UNAMA’s views on that? Is it not unfair treatment to those people who are not able to participate in the elections?

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Let me make one thing clear here: The Afghan Government and international community want every Afghan who has the constitutional and democratic right to vote in this year’s elections. That is our hope and desire and that is where our efforts are all focussed. Now, at the start of this process we were very clear of the aim to have a transparent process and that includes highlighting the difficulties as well as what is going well. Even the most hardened critic will need to realize that holding elections with the current security situation is going to be a challenge for all parties involved.

At yesterday’s press conference that you attended with the Afghan Government they were being as transparent as they possibly can with some of the challenges that they will face over the coming weeks and months. Nonetheless we are encouraged by the determination on the part of the Afghan Government to reach out across all of Afghanistan. The Afghan Government may have identified two districts where they will take proactive operations. But, remember, this is a moving picture. The security situation changes, and, I’m sure, the Afghan Government will continue to revaluate the situation in those ten districts.

And if there’s a possibility of being able to hold elections in those ten districts, the Afghan Government with the support of the international community will make every effort to ensure we reach out to those parts of the electorate. We are still three months away from polling day and like you we will be watching the situation and progress in those ten districts very closely over the coming weeks and months.