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The BBC's Matt Frei reports from Western Afghanistan
"After decades of warfare this is a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions"
 real 56k

Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 14:00 GMT
UN envoy visits 'forgotten' Afghans
Refugees in Herat
They want peace: Afghan refugees in Herat
A senior United Nations envoy, Kenzo Oshima, has visited Afghan refugee camps where more than 100 people died last month.


There is only one thing, these people need peace, an end to conflict - and they ask for it

UN envoy Kenzo Oshima

Mr Oshima, UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said the refugees need "prompt and massive" international aid.

He also issued an impassioned plea for an end to two decades of fighting in Afghanistan.

About 80,000 refugees now live around Herat, near the Iranian border, where at least 170 people died recently of hunger and cold.

Forgotten emergency

Escalating fighting and drought have forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes in Afghanistan in the past year.

Kenzo Oshima, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
UN's Oshima has come to see for himself

"The conflict is creating these humanitarian problems and the parties involved should try to put an end to the war," Mr Oshima said.

"I think it is wise for the international community to act before it is too late to act in a very prompt and massive way," he added.

Mr Oshima's visit follows the closure of the UN's office in Kabul by the ruling Taleban.

The move was in direct retaliation to last week's decision by the United States to shut the Taleban's offices at the UN in New York.

UN officials travelling with Mr Oshima said the latest fighting would only compound a fast deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

"Afghanistan has been the forgotten emergency for the last few years," UN Deputy Coordinator for Afghanistan Antonio Donini told the AFP news agency.

Mr Oshima toured the main Maslakh camp, where the population is expected to rise to 60,000 over the next few months.

On Wednesday, the envoy met refugees in Faisabad, headquarters of the UN-recognised opposition government.

"There is only one thing, these people need peace, an end to conflict - and they ask for it," he said.


Bodies

As he spoke, opposition fighters were bringing home the bodies of their dead after recapturing Bamiyan, a strategically key central city.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes since the fighting intensified.

But aid agencies simply do not have enough food to reach all needy areas.

Map of Afghanistan
More than 500,000 have now fled their homes

The UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on the Taleban last month over the militia's refusal to hand over Saudi militant Osama bin Laden.

But Afghan officials still hope Mr Oshima's visit will yield more international aid to Afghanistan.

"I'm very much hopeful Mr Oshima can bring some relief to the people of Afghanistan because now he has seen what is happening for himself," said Raz Mohammed, chief of the Taleban's Ministry of Martyrs and Repatriation.

"Obviously we hope that he can help to remove the sanctions from the people of Afghanistan," he told AFP.

Mr Oshima said he would report Afghan requests to the UN secretary general.

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See also:

14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban close UN office
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban lose key city
10 Feb 01 | Americas
Taleban shut down in US
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
08 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban seek talks on bin Laden
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
15 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan executions condemned
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