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Saturday, 16 June, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Kabul facing bread shortages

Some 300,000 Afghans receive subsidised bread
The UN food agency has stopped selling cheap bread in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after it ran out of flour.

The shortage comes as talks continue with the Taleban authorities over the employment of Afghan women.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said the bakeries producing subsidised bread would remain shut until Tuesday, but only reopen if there was an agreement with the Taleban.


We will resume our operation when we reach a concrete compromise with the Taliban

Gerard van Dijk, WFP director for Afghanistan
The WFP has threatened to close down its subsidised bread project which feeds almost 300,000 Afghans unless it is allowed to employ Afghan women to survey the needs of other women in Kabul.

The Islamic Taleban militia refused to back down from its strict version of Sharia law, which bans women from most work.

"We will resume our operation when we reach a concrete compromise with the Taleban," said WFP director for Afghanistan Gerard van Dijk.

Contacts are continuing with Taleban officials, and UN officials are hopeful of a positive outcome.

"I still think that even in the most difficult circumstances if there is a will you can always find a way," Mr van Dijk said.

Dignity of women 'precious'

But there are few signs that the Taleban are ready to compromise.

Afghan women
Women are banned from working
In a statement on Friday, they said they refused to accept the UN demands, accusing it of interference in the rules and laws of the Taleban Government.

"The dignity of Afghan women is more precious than anything else," said the statement.

"The protection of the dignity of Afghan women is such an issue that the Islamic Emirate (of Afghanistan) can't give permission to anybody to interfere in it."

The UN argues it is trying to alleviate the suffering of Kabul's poor.

"We try to respect the Afghan traditions" said Mr van Dijk. "We are providing food to the poorest people. I think that obviously is providing them some dignity. If there is no food there is no dignity."

Drought

The WFP is to continue to operate 21 women-run bakeries that serve more than 40,000 widows and their children, identified as the most vulnerable.

The latest impasse between the Taleban and international aid organisations comes as Afghanistan suffers its third year of drought.

An estimated five million Afghans have little or no access to food, and aid workers warn the humanitarian crisis is deepening.

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See also:

15 Jun 01 | South Asia
Kabul food crisis 'could be averted'
08 Jun 01 | South Asia
Donors warn Taleban on aid
07 Jun 01 | South Asia
Opium and aid top Afghan talks
04 Jun 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'to get tough on foreigners'
16 Aug 00 | South Asia
Taleban shuts women's bakeries
30 May 01 | South Asia
UN threat to Afghan operations
11 Jan 00 | South Asia
Afghanistan: Women under Taleban rule
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