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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 22:55 GMT
Diplomatic row for US and Taleban
Afghan girls wait in a soup queue
Afghanistan is in a "dismal" state, says Mr Vendrell
By Mark Devenport in New York

The United Nations' most senior political representative to Afghanistan is in Washington to see the US State Department for discussions about the US decision to close the Taleban's New York office.

Keen to keep up the pressure for the handover of the terrorist suspect, Osama Bin Laden, the US has told the Taleban it must close its office, which is one of its main liaison points with the UN.


The closure of the political office in Kabul ... would of course constitute another handicap in the work that we are trying to do

Francesc Vendrell
The Taleban has threatened to close the UN's political offices in Kabul in retaliation.

Briefing the UN Security Council on Monday, UN special envoy Francesc Vendrell described the latest humanitarian position in Afghanistan as dismal.

His attempts to convene talks between the warring parties in Afghanistan were effectively torpedoed by the decision of the UN Security Council last December to impose further sanctions on the Taleban.

Because the measures included an arms embargo on the Taleban, but not on their opponents, the Islamic movement took the view that the UN was biased and pulled out of any peace talks.

Mr Vendrell believes the closure of the New York office would further damage his diplomatic efforts.

Refugee crisis

"The closure of the political office in Kabul, which I hope would not happen, would of course constitute another handicap in the work that we are trying to do on the peace front," he said.

UN under secretary-general, Kenzo Oshimo
The UN's Kenzo Oshimo has been sent to Afghanistan
He clearly hopes that some channel of communication between the UN and the Taleban can be kept open, but a US representative at the UN insisted the Taleban's New York office must close.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council Mr Vendrell said serious human rights violations persisted in Afghanistan, and he said half a million new refugees had been created by the combined impact of a severe drought and renewed fighting.

The UN believes there is a real risk of a famine later this year. It has sent an under secretary-general, Kenzo Oshimo, to Afghanistan to see for himself the worsening situation.

Against this gloomy backdrop, the one positive note is that the UN believes the Taleban is seriously enforcing its ban on the cultivation of poppies which provide the raw material for the production of heroin.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban plea to US
10 Feb 01 | Americas
Taleban shut down in US
08 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban seek talks on bin Laden
19 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan fears over UN sanctions
06 Feb 01 | Americas
Witness reveals bin Laden threats
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
04 Aug 00 | Africa
Compensation deadline for Kenyans
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