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The BBC's Kate Clark
"Afghanistan is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the world"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Refugee chief urges Afghan ceasefire
Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ruud Lubbers
Mr Lubbers (right) is meeting deposed President Rabbani
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has flown into northern Afghanistan to meet the opposition and to press for a temporary ceasefire.

Mr Lubbers, who is in the opposition-held city of Faizabad, is meeting deposed President Burhanuddin Rabbani.


Afghanistan is the fastest growing crisis of internal displacement in the world today

UN statement
He is also hoping to meet the opposition commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, but it is not clear if that meeting will take place.

Mr Lubbers had earlier left the Taleban headquarters in the southern Afghan town of Kandahar without the temporary ceasefire he had been seeking.

But he told reporters that the governor of southern Kandahar, Mullah Mohammed Hasan, had promised to take his appeal for a truce to the Taleban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Mr Lubbers wants both the Taleban and their opponents, the Afghan northern alliance, to lay down their weapons to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to be distributed.

Drug eradication programme

In discussions with the Taleban's southern governor, Mr Lubbers also focused on the Taleban's programme to end poppy and opium production.

He praised the military for virtually wiping out the country's opium crops and said he hoped that would encourage the international community to increase aid.

Ruud Lubbers with kids in camp
Ruud Lubbers: Wants a halt to fighting
He is touring Afghanistan to assess what the UN says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Afghans fleeing their homes in the face of drought and the continuing civil war.

"Of course we will do our jobs but the level of assistance... will be very related to the signals of whether there is a preparedness to prioritise the Afghan people and humanitarian efforts," he said on Tuesday.

Mr Lubbers arrived in western Afghanistan from Iran on Monday and has visited refugee camps in the Herat area.

There has been renewed fighting between the Taleban and its opponents in the north of the country.

But the main reason for the movement of people to Herat is the widespread drought.

Drought

Local residents say last year's was the worst in living memory - and this year's could be even worse.

The UN's regional co-ordinator for western Afghanistan, Hans Christian Poulsen, said many people realised there would be no wheat crop this year and had decided to leave.

Others have already eaten the seed intended for planting.

The UN has described the situation in Afghanistan as a humanitarian disaster, saying that at least 700,000 people have fled their homes - either to camps inside the country or to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.

It has warned that many Afghans face famine this year unless large-scale international assistance arrives.

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See also:

30 Apr 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's civil war 'insane'
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Concern grows for Herat refugees
29 Nov 00 | South Asia
Urgent UN appeal for Afghanistan
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