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No help until Kunduz siege lifted: ICRC chief

November 23, 2001


ISLAMABAD, Nov 22: The President of International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, has expressed grave concern over the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Taliban militia trapped in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz.

Speaking to a group of journalists here on Thursday, he said the ICRC would be able to provide help to these people only after the siege is lifted and fighting stopped.

“We would then be able to register them and provide the needed relief to them,” he added.

The ICRC president, who is on his way to Kabul, broke journey here for a day to meet President Gen Pervez Musharraf, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider and the Minister of State for Frontier Region and Kashmir Affairs Abbas Sarfraz Khan.

He said the issue of those trapped in Kunduz also came up in his meetings with the Pakistani leaders and a number of ideas for bringing relief to the besieged people were discussed.

In the course of his talk with the journalists, Mr Kellenberger, however, gave the impression that the ICRC could do little for those under attack in Kunduz as long as the fighting continued.

When asked why the ICRC could not go into Kunduz while the negotiations were going on between the two combatants, and find out the real state of humanitarian disaster inside the city under siege, Mr Kellenberger said that even this would have to be negotiated between the two combating parties before the ICRC could go in.

The ICRC chief sounded concerned about the lack of an authoritative agency inside Afghanistan whom it could approach for having the unnecessary obstacles in its way for a relatively more effective relief work.

He, however, said the ICRC had never functioned under armed guards, and therefore, it was not looking for any such help. He certainly seemed concerned about the uncertain situation in most parts of Afghanistan which had rendered those areas out of reach of the ICRC.

He said the ICRC, which had withdrawn its expatriate personnel from Afghanistan soon after the Sept 11 tragedy had decided to resume its activities at the same old level.

“Our activities had never stopped in Afghanistan. The local staff which numbered around 1,000 continued the good work and I would specially thank them during my visit there for their services under the most trying conditions,” he added.

He said there were as many as 50-70 expatriate ICRC workers in Afghanistan before they were all withdrawn, adding out of these 24 were likely to go back very soon.

He said there were six ICRC-run orthopaedic hospitals in various cities in Afghanistan which needed to be properly staffed and provided with the needed hardware and help.

He said the total annual budget of the ICRC was a billion Swiss francs and out of this Afghanistan was allocated 85 million Swiss francs in a calender year.

MEETING WITH MUSHARRAF: The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, called on President Pervez Musharraf here on Thursday, adds APP.

On the occasion, President Pervez Musharraf expressed deep concern over the safety of Afghan and non-Afghan Taliban in the Kunduz area, who reportedly wish to surrender to the UN or a neutral authority.

Gen Musharraf emphasized that the coalition, the United Nations and also the ICRC must do everything to ensure that these people were treated in accordance with international humanitarian law and did not become victims of revenge.

The ICRC chief assured the president that the ICRC would do everything within its mandate to ensure that international humanitarian law was respected with regard to those under siege in the Kunduz area.

MEETING WITH MINISTER: The ICRC chief, Jakob Kellenberger, called on the Minister for Kana and Safron Abbas Sarfaraz Khan on Thursday.

Mr Kellenberger briefed the minister on their operations for the war-hit people of Afghanistan and stated that the ICRC was providing medicines and other surgical items to the hospitals in Afghanistan.