Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

1 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

Robert Watkins of Canada has been appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as deputy Special Representative at UNAMA, with responsibility for development and humanitarian affairs.

Mr Watkins will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan.

He takes over from Bo Asplund who’s leaving after two years in Afghanistan.

Mr Watkins brings to this position broad experience in preparing and managing responses to complex humanitarian emergencies and post-conflict recovery programmes.

As you know Chris Alexander left last week after six years in Afghanistan.

He was Deputy Special Representative with responsibility for political affairs.
Peter Galbraith from America will be arriving shortly to take up that portfolio.

The UN’s elections support project UNDP/ELECT, along with EUPOL, the European Union’s police mission in Afghanistan and the Interior Ministry is training police officers for the elections.

Yesterday a two-day course started in Kabul.

The aim is to train 35,000 police officers by Election Day to look after security during the polls and to educate them on the electoral process, Afghanistan’s election law, international standards of elections and, critically, their role during the elections.

Initially, 350 officers from across the country are being trained in Herat, Kabul, Mazar, and Kandahar, who in turn will teach others in order to eventually reach 35,000 officers by 20 August.

The first batch of about 25 officers is currently being trained at the Crystal Hotel, Taimani, so you can go and cover that if you wish.

Local authorities in the central highlands reported heavy floods last week in three districts of Yakawlang, Kahmard and Saighan in Bamyan province and two districts of Kitti and Kijran in Dai Kundi province.

So far two people in Bamyan and two others in Dai Kundi have lost their lives.

Hundreds of hectares of arable land are flooded and 82 houses were completely destroyed, while thousands of trees were uprooted and hundreds of livestock perished in Kahmard, Yakawlang and Saighan.

The road from Kahmard to Bamyan was also blocked.

In response to the flood disaster, assessments have started and the road in Kahmard is being repaired by the PRT.

Aid agencies and the local Government are providing the affected communities with a number of items including plastic sheets, tents, water containers, gas stoves, clothing and other essential items (3,962 tarpaulin plastic sheets, 311 tents, 718 family kitchen kits and 5,263 blankets, 450 plastic buckets, 2,400 water containers, 468 gas stoves, 2,414 different items of clothing, 100 kitchen kits, 150 buckets and 1,900 jerry cans).

More than 21,000 families in the six districts of the north eastern province of Kunduz have received nearly 358 tons of food under WFP’s food-for-work projects.

The three month projects started in May this year and are being implemented by the Rural Rehabilitation Department.

They include cleaning of canals, levelling and gravelling of roads and digging of reservoirs.

The projects not only provide much needed food for the local population but also enhance agriculture production by rehabilitating agricultural infrastructures.

WFP is planning to assist nearly nine million Afghans with 317,000 tons of food in 2009.

A girls’ high school has been inaugurated in Qaramqul district of Faryab province.

The project was funded by the Norwegian Government for US$ 257,000, and was implemented by the Department of Rehabilitation and Rural Development under UNDP’s National Area Based Development Programme.

The school can accommodate 640 students at a time and it has been provided with 320 sets of school furniture.

This is one of nine school projects which are under construction or rehabilitation by the area based programme in Faryab province with a total budget of US$ 1,870,927.

Students in the north-eastern province of Kunduz will have a new school building thanks to UNDP’s Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme.

More than 15,000 students in the Qala-i-Zal district of Kunduz province will study in the new 16-classroom building.

The Rural Rehabilitation Department is building the school which costs US$ 127,818.

ANBP awards districts with development projects after all the illegal armed groups are disbanded as part of the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups or DIAG programme.

The implementation of seven such development projects is ongoing in the districts of Balkh, Badghis, Faryab, Kapisa, Takhar and Nangarhar provinces.

In other DIAG compliant districts the projects are at different stages of the technical and procurement process.

This Friday the United Nations marks World Environment Day and events are taking place in Afghanistan for the day.
The UN Environment Programme is celebrating the day with two events in Afghanistan.

The first is a clean-up and environmental and climate change awareness raising campaign through schools and mosques in the Taimani and Qala-e Fatullah neighbourhoods of District 10 in Kabul.

The second is a children’s nature painting competition and ceremony in Bamiyan tomorrow, hosted by the Governor and attended by local dignitaries.

World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972.

It is a chance for the UN to stimulate worldwide public awareness on the environment and enhance political attention and action.

The theme for this year is: Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change.

We’d like to encourage media to report on this day and push environmental issues in Afghanistan in their programming.

The UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation from Quetta of registered Afghans with Proof of Registration (PoR) cards in Balochistan resumes today 1 June 2009.


BBC PASHTO RADIO [translated from Pashto]: As you mentioned there are many flood-affected families around the country, not only in those two provinces. For example, floods also hit Jawzjan. Can you say how many families are affected and what are the casualties and how much assistance has been provided?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: At last week’s press conference, we provided you with a detailed report on assessments and support to the northern, north eastern and western provinces. We did not have updates with regard to the floods in the central region at that press conference. You can get all the figures already published from the press briefing last week or from the web site. Otherwise, for more information please contact us after this press briefing.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: With regard to the presidential elections, we know that UNAMA provides a lot of assistance and advice to the Independent Election Commission for the upcoming elections. There are some concerns by candidates who cannot spend much money on their campaigning, while some others who do not have any limitation on what they spend on their campaign. How can the international community help in this regard while UNAMA has the role of financial assistance to conduct these elections? What is your position?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: One thing we want to make clear again, is that this time the elections, both presidential and provincial councils, are entirely led by the Afghans themselves. As to the expenses for the candidates, the laws do not allow the international community to fund the campaign of any presidential candidate. But, you can get in touch with the Media Commission or with the spokesperson of the Independent Election Commission as they provided assistance with TV and radio sponsored advertisements to all candidates during the previous election. I am sure they will be in a better position to provide more information on that.

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: If I may just add, I know that all candidates will be provided with free airtime on TV and radio equally. To ensure a level playing field that time on the Afghan media will be provided by the Media Commission.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: Given the warning by the Independent Election Commission to some of the candidates who have started their campaign prematurely and despite this some candidates did not listen to the Independent Election Commission, what reaction do you think the Independent Election Commission should show in order to prevent such action by the candidates and is it not a violation of the law to start campaigning prematurely?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: As to the violation, campaigning is not supposed to happen outside the campaign period, which starts in mid June. The Electoral Complaints Commission has reminded all candidates about that in a press release. If such premature campaigning happens it is a violation of the law. In that case supporters of candidates can complain and report these concerns to the Electoral Complaints Commission.

As far as we are concerned we will give a report at the end of our monitoring.

And also UN Special Representative Kai Eide has also released election guidelines a few weeks ago specifying the duties of everyone in the electoral process.

SABA TV [translated from Pashto]: My question is about Children’s Day. While this day is celebrated worldwide and in Afghanistan, five million children are out of school and they are doing forced labour in this country. I wanted to know the position of UNAMA on this.

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: As to Children’s Day I have witnessed that there are programmes prepared by different media and whatever we do is through UNICEF. We have just mentioned the inauguration of schools. Since 2002 more than six million children have enrolled in schools in Afghanistan, this number was much lower in the past. There have been good achievements. We do accept children are facing problems and many children are out of school, especially girls. Our final goal is that no single child in Afghanistan should be left out of school. Of course, what we do in assisting the Government of Afghanistan is through the Ministry of Education. We also support children through UNICEF with different activities. If you need further information, please do talk to our colleague from UNICEF who is present here at this conference.

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: If I can pick up on the specific point of child labour. I would like to highlight a programme that the World Food Programme has been delivering in Afghanistan for a number of years now called Food for Education. The reality is that in a country such as Afghanistan, which has such high poverty levels, many families are unfortunately forced to send their children out to work because of financial pressures. In recognition of this and to encourage parents to send their children to school rather than to the street, the World Food Programme has been running this programme in schools for a number of years, where school children will receive a ration of essential food supplies for themselves and their families in return for attending school on a regular basis. Not only has this had the impact of providing life saving humanitarian assistance to poverty-stricken families in the short term, but it has also played a key role in pushing up school attendance rates in this country. This programme is currently delivering across the country and if any of you are interested in meeting some of the recipients or some of the people who are involved in that programme, we will be happy to put you in touch with them.

HASHT-E-SUBH [translated from Dari]: My question is about the training of 35,000 police and whether these trained police officers will join the rest of the police force or will they just disappear? Ad who is paying their salaries, the Government of Afghanistan or UNDP? Will their pay scale be different from the rest of the police force? Another part of my question is what do you see abnormal in the current electoral process compared to the previous elections?

UNAMA, NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: As to these 35,000 police officers, they are not new police officers they are part of the police force. On this one, I would advise you to go and see the training being conducted at the Crystal Hotel today after you finish with us here. They are part of the Ministry of Interior and they will stay in their posts after the elections. They are receiving training on how to secure the elections in the upcoming months.

And on anything abnormal seen during the current election process we have not seen anything abnormal. On the contrary we see something positive and that is the conduct of these elections by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission for the first time, which is a positive sign and we congratulate Afghans on that.

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Throughout the voter registration period, we had nearly 4.5 million new voters come out to register for this year’s polls. There were voter registration centres across the country and no major security incidents were reported during the voter registration period. And again during the candidate nomination period, nominations were received across the country and no major security incidents were reported during this crucial period. We think this bodes well for the coming weeks as we approach Election Day on 20 August. However, there can be no room for complacency, the safety and welfare of the voters as they go out to vote must be a primary concern of the election authorities and of the Government. We are very encouraged to learn that the training of 35,000 police officers to secure this year’s poll is now well underway.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: You mentioned throughout the registration period that there were no significantly serious security incidents, 4.5 million received voting cards. While in Zabul province people who have received registration cards have been given warnings by insurgents that whoever gets cards will be in danger. How can we say that the process is going on normally?

UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I think there’s no doubt these elections are about driving this country forward with renewed, fresh and determined political leadership. It should come as no surprise those who want to hold this country back feel threatened by this process. And without a doubt they will make try and disrupt this process and that’s why security during this year’s elections is so paramount. The important thing to look at is how the Government is responding to this threat to the poll and to ensure security for voters to come out and vote.

Over the coming weeks the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence will be rolling out their security plan for this year’s elections. And we hope that as Government security forces fan out across the country and make their presence felt this will offer the reassurance to voters to come out and vote. The Afghan people want elections, they want to vote and we will provide every support to the Government of Afghanistan and the Independent Election Commission to ensure Afghans across the country can exercise their democratic right to have their say in the future of this country.