November 22, 2002

UN Sends First Food Shipment to Afghanistan Since Attacks

Fearing widespread starvation in Afghanistan if America attacks, the United Nations sent its first food shipments there since the September 11 terrorist attacks, a UN spokesman said.

In Afghanistan, the trial of eight foreign aid workers was put off for a day, until Sunday. The eight were arrested last month by the hard-line Taliban government for allegedly spreading Christianity in the strictly Muslim country.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Saturday shut down a major militant organization which the United States has branded a terrorist organization. The Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, or Movement of the Holy Warriors, has been fighting Indian soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region. A Harakat commander, Sajjad Shahid, blamed "American pressure" for the crackdown.

The move came a day after the United Nations passed a resolution ordering member states to crack down on terror groups. Harakat ul-Mujahedeen has strong ties to Afghanistan, and some of its members were trained there. Scores of Harakat volunteers are believed to be fighting alongside the Afghanistan's ruling Taliban in its battle against opposition guerrillas in the north.

In Islamabad, a spokesman for the World Food Program, Khaled Mansour, said convoys carrying 200 tons of wheat left the Pakistani border city of Peshawar on Saturday for the Afghan capital, Kabul. Other shipments would be dispatched in a few days for Kabul and the western city of Herat, he said.

"We are resuming food deliveries into Afghanistan on a trial basis," Mansour said. "Once we ensure that food aid is reaching the most needy ... we will move more food into Afghanistan."

Humanitarian groups have been warning of impending starvation inside Afghanistan because of political turmoil, drought and the threat of American attack. The Taliban are sheltering Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September 11 suicide airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The United Nations fears that if the United States attacks Afghanistan, up to 1.5 million Afghans will seek shelter in Pakistan and other neighboring countries. In preparation for such an influx, the UN refugee agency announced its first emergency flight of supplies to Pakistan.

An Ilyushin-76 cargo plane flew in nearly 50 tons of plastic sheeting for emergency shelter and plans to shuttle more supplies from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Pakistan.

The United Nations and international relief organizations evacuated their foreign staff from Afghanistan after the terror attacks, leaving local Afghan staffers to tend to an estimated 5 million people who rely on outside aid for survival.

Last week, the United Nations said its offices in the southern city of Kandahar were shut down and occupied by the Taliban -- and that most of its staff have been prohibited from using satellite phones, cutting off communication with the outside world.

On Saturday, UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said UN offices have been looted in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, though it wasn't clear what was stolen or by whom.

The UN decision to resume shipments comes as hopes for peacefully resolving the standoff between the United States and the Taliban are fading. The Taliban have refused to hand over bin Laden and the chief lieutenants in his alleged terror network, known as al-Qaida.

Kabul Radio reported that Taliban officials held a series of meetings Saturday in at least eight provinces to prepare the public for a possible US attack.

"Participants expressed their readiness to defend Afghanistan," the Taliban-run radio said in a broadcast monitored here. "They also expressed their readiness for jihad (holy war) against America."

Still, the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, reportedly played down the chances of a US strike.

"We do not expect (an attack). There is no reason for an attack," he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Iranian newspaper Entekhab published Saturday. He gave no specific reason to back up his conviction, but suggested the United States may be facing mounting opposition from other Islamic nations questioning the need for military action.

On Friday, a Pakistani clerical delegation accompanied by Pakistan's intelligence chief failed to make any headway with Omar on resolving the standoff. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a senior pro-Taliban Islamic leader, told reporters in Islamabad on Saturday that another high-level religious delegation would travel to Afghanistan soon to talk about ways to avert war.

Pakistan's government said it would keep trying to influence the Taliban to give up bin Laden, but it was not optimistic. "For the last two years, the Taliban have not budged from their stand on Osama bin Laden," Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider told reporters Saturday.

Pakistan's government is being denounced by hard-line Islamic groups for supporting the United States in the confrontation over bin Laden. It met with fresh criticism Saturday after its crackdown on the Harakat movement.

On Saturday, Pakistan shut down the group's seven offices in Pakistan. Harakat's assets were frozen last Monday by US President George W Bush along with those of 26 other organizations and individuals in connection with the worldwide campaign against terrorism.

Two key leaders of the group, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil and Farooq Kashmiri, went into hiding soon after the September 11 attacks. Both of them fought with Afghan resistance forces against the Soviets in the 1980s.

Preparing for possible retaliation from terrorist groups if the United States attacks Afghanistan, Pakistani scientists and doctors said on Saturday they were making contingency plans in case of chemical or biological attacks.

Hospital authorities are arranging for extra beds and medicines and are training doctors and paramedical staff, while defense laboratories were trying to prepare vaccines against anthrax.

In Kabul, the Pakistani lawyer for eight foreign aid workers, Atif Ali Khan, said he had been told by the Taliban that their trial was now to resume on Sunday. A session had been scheduled for Saturday. Khan said he had met with the workers^Meanwhile, a British journalist arrested after sneaking into Afghanistan is under investigation for possible espionage charges, Kabul radio reported on Saturday.

Yvonne Ridley, 43, a reporter for the Sunday Express of London, was arrested on Friday along with two Afghan companions in Dour Daba district of eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban said.

(Xinhua News Agency 10/02/2001)

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