Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

11 May 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 Nazifullah Salarzai, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

Dari - Pashto

As many of you will be aware the nomination period for this year’s presidential and provincial council elections is now closed. The Independent Election Commission informs us that 44 candidates have nominated themselves for the presidential elections and 3,324 have put themselves forward for the provincial council elections, including 342 women. This is 20 more women than were nominated in the last elections. This is encouraging and demonstrates the strong desire of Afghan women to increase their representation in deciding the future of this country.

With the nomination period over, the Afghan people have a chance to review their candidates and choose who best represents their interests and the interests of the country as a whole. We urge Afghans to choose their candidates without fear or favour.

UNAMA will follow these elections closely and monitor the campaign to help ensure that the fundamental political rights of the Afghan people are respected.

The Afghan people will also need to play their part in ensuring the transparency and credibility of these elections. We ask the Afghan people to remain vigilant and resist any attempts to subvert their democratic rights by informing the Election Complaints Commission of any such attempts.

The third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan will be held in Islamabad, 13-14 May. The conference will bring together delegations from over 40 countries and international organizations to increase cooperation for economic growth and poverty reduction, boost development assistance and strengthen ties to build stability.

The conference will focus on the following key areas: energy and infrastructure; overland trade and transit issues between countries and regions; health; labour movement and human resource development; mining.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide will be attending this conference with his senior development and political advisers to advocate for enhanced cooperation in all these vital fields.

More than 12,700 registered refuges have been assisted to return home in the last month with the help of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme from Pakistan.

It’s a month now since the programme was resumed and the numbers are notably lower than the figure for the same period last year.

However, with ongoing developments in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the return figures are expected to rise in the coming weeks.

The daily figure of returning refugees from Pakistan continues to rise steadily as the first few weeks of repatriation are traditionally slow.

Returns from Pakistan re-started on 1 April following a halt during the winter months.

According to UNHCR monitoring reports, of the 12,700 repatriated to date, 72 per cent have come from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 10 per cent from Sindh, and nine per cent from Punjab.

Compared to last year’s returns, a higher number have come from Sindh and Punjab this year citing unemployment and the high cost of living as the primary reason for leaving those provinces.

Last year in the same period 67,050 returned of whom 62,261 from NWFP and 2,561 from Sindh and Punjab which constituted one per cent from Sindh and two per cent from Punjab.

Other returnees have also cited security uncertainties as a reason for leaving Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

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

As we are speaking here today with you, 144 different types of light weapons are being handed over to the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programme in the centre of Kapisa province.

Out of these weapons 59 have been collected from five illegal armed groups in Nejrab district of Kapisa.

The remaining 85 weapons have been confiscated by the Afghan National Police, the National Directorate of Security and the Counter Terrorism Department in the province.

By handing over these weapons to DIAG the district will be officially declared as DIAG compliant and a Peace District.

The ceremony is taking place in Mahmood Raqi, the centre of Kapisa in the governor’s office.

More than 2,000 families received 300 tons of emergency food assistance in flood affected areas of Chimtal, and Nahr-e-Shahi districts of Balkh and Ghorian district of Herat province.

In March, the World Food Programme helped more than 512,800 people with food assistance through its food-for-work programmes and nearly 54,000 tuberculosis patients and their families with food, nearly 525,000 people through general food distribution programmes, and more than 557,570 children received WFP food in schools.

The World Food Programme is planning to 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.

Provincial and international actors plan to rehabilitate community facilities and provide food assistance and fodder for livestock to victims of the recent floods that affected the north and east of the country.

UNAMA’s Recovery, Relief and Reconstruction Unit has reported that recent floods, landslides and avalanches resulted in loss of lives and caused damages that will affect the livelihood of the Afghan population long after the initial disaster.

In Baghlan, an estimated 300 houses, 200 wells, 230 jeribs of already cultivated land were completely destroyed.

In Kunduz, 20,000 to 25,000 families have reportedly been affected.

In Takhar and Badhakshan, 31 people were killed. All over those provinces, roads, bridges and agricultural lands were seriously damaged.

UN agencies and NGOs together with the Government of Afghanistan are planning to provide access to safe drinking water and health facilities, as well as food assistance and temporary shelter, blankets and cloths.


RFE/RL: I want to hear from you whether you think air strikes are an efficient way to counter terrorism in Afghanistan. Does UNAMA support the continuation of these strikes which are responsible for many civilian deaths in this country?

UNAMA: Firstly allow me to express the sympathy and the condolences of the entire UN family here in Afghanistan for the lives that have been lost in this incident.

While the numbers of civilian casualties remain disputed, it is clear that a significant number have perished. Whoever caused the loss of these lives must be held accountable. We have always made clear that the safety and the welfare of the Afghan people must come first in the planning and implementation of any military operation. You will know that a joint investigation is currently underway and we must allow this investigation to be completed before we rush to any judgements. Our primary concern at this point is the welfare of the victims and their families. On your specific point about air strikes you may recall in previous reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council we have highlighted the fact large that a number of civilian casualties that we see in this country caused by international military forces are caused by air strikes. And while the United Nations is not in a position to advise the military on tactics we have made clear that in the planning and implementation of all such operations - the welfare of civilians must come first. And in this respect we welcome recent comments that have been reported from the U.S. military suggesting that they will look at the tactics they are using to ensure they don’t undermine the strategic goals of the international effort in support of Afghanistan and its people.

SABA TV [translated from Pashto]: The question is related to civilian casualties by U.S. air strikes. The Afghan president has said that the air strikes should be stopped while the U.S. defence secretary insisted that they will continue these attacks. I would like to know UNAMA’s position on the air strikes. Do you think there should be another way of countering terrorism and avoiding civilian casualties?

UNAMA: Let me make this clear. The objective of all of us working here in Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan people, must be to protect the welfare of the Afghan people. An important part of the joint investigation that is currently taking place will need to look at the tactics and the ways in which this operation has been planned and implemented. It will be vital for the investigation team to look at exactly what tactics have been used and the impact they have had on the civilians. In all of our conversations with the military forces in this country we have made this clear that civilian casualties are unacceptable and every effort that can be made to protect the civilian population must be made.

KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: One of the candidates on the list was accused of war crimes. Is UNAMA concerned about such candidates? Do you have any specific concerns?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: You have heard us talking about this issue many times. We have nothing further to add, but to remind you: The SRSG has stressed the need for the people of Afghanistan to select candidates who are best placed to forge a better future for the country. The Afghan people have the primary responsibility for selecting candidates who they believe have a vision and manifesto for the future direction of Afghanistan.

UNAMA or the international community does not decide the eligibility of candidates, this is an Afghan election and all those involved in the elections must adhere to the existing legal framework, including the Constitution, the Electoral Law, and all regulations, procedures and policies issued by the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission.

AFP: If the UN is part of the joint investigation in the area, we have heard that some people came to the UNAMA investigation team and they have told their stories and they were not allowed for whatever reason for security to go to the Bala Blok affected village. Is the team there part of the investigation and what were those stories told by the people who came to UNAMA?

UNAMA: It is important that we recognize that there is a joint investigation currently taking place on the ground with the Afghan authorities and international military forces. They are leading this investigation and they will report their findings in due course. UNAMA has offered its assistance to the local authorities on the ground in Farah. As part of that assistance we do indeed have a small team of people in Farah town. They are helping the authorities with their investigation and also looking at the immediate humanitarian needs of the local populace. At this stage we need to wait for the joint investigation to report on its findings. And in the meantime it’s important that we don’t add to the fear and unrest by undue speculation.

IRNA [translated from Farsi]: Recently there have been reports on the use of chemical weapons by international forces against insurgents and the result of that was an eight year old girl having severe burns. I would like to know UNAMA’s position on the use of chemical weapons.

UNAMA: On the specific issue of chemical weapons we are aware of such reports and certainly that would be something that the joint investigation team will be looking at as part of their report on what has taken place in Farah province. You have heard us earlier in the press conference stressing on the importance of the safety and welfare of Afghan civilians in the planning and implementation of all military operations. This obviously includes the use of any munitions which could have a disproportionate effect on the civilian population. This will need to be an important part of what the investigation team on the ground looks at. And we need to hear from the investigating team before we pre-empt any of their findings.

BBC PERSIAN RADIO [translated from Dari]: What are UNAMA’s programmes assisting the flood affected families? And recently we had reports from Takhar province that all the roads connecting the city with the villages have been destroyed by floods. What are your plans to provide assistance for the people there?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: We mentioned earlier the reports and figures that we have from those areas. I will be able to provide you with more details after the press conference.