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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Taleban 'demand tax' on aid convoy
Convoy of food aid lorries leaving Peshawar, Pakistan and heading for Afghanistan
Food is on the way: aid lorries leaving Peshawar
The World Food Programme (WFP) says its aid effort to Afghanistan has been hampered by Taleban officials demanding a road tax.

The officials demanded $32 for every tonne of food carried by a convoy that had just crossed the Pakistan-Afghan border, the WPF says.

The incident happened only hours after the WFP - a United Nations agency - began resuming food convoys into Afghanistan.

US aid ration
A US aid ration - much criticised by aid agencies
It had suspended operations, saying that the military attacks on Afghanistan made it too dangerous and that truck drivers had refused to go inside.

A WFP spokesman said the tax was unacceptable and the agency had refused to pay it.

The convoy had been bound for the western city of Herat.

The WFP is now looking at other ways of getting the aid to Herat which had already received some aid on Thursday.

The UN is sending another convoy of more than 1,000 tonnes of wheat by road to the Afghan capital Kabul from neighbouring Pakistan.

The convoys resumed after the WFP decided that food shortages were so grave that its shipments had to be restarted.

An estimated quarter of Afghanistan's 26 million people rely on food handouts.

Grave situation

"We realised we could move the food in by road, and considering the gravity of the situation, we decided to go ahead," said Mike Huggins, a WFP spokesman in Pakistan.

Workers loading sacks of wheat into WFP lorries in Peshawar
The burden of drought
A convoy of 42 lorries carrying food left the Pakistani city of Peshawar through the Khyber Pass on Wednesday.

The lorries are now expected to reach the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday.

WFP and other UN agencies withdrew their international staff from Afghanistan after the 11 September attacks in the United States.

US military transport planes have been dropping food parcels in Afghanistan during the air raids.

But aid agencies say the airdrops could do more harm than good.

The warnings have come from the French charity Medecins sans Frontieres [MSF, or Doctors without Borders], the British-based agency Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross, based in Switzerland.

Ineffective

The agencies argue that air drops are not an effective means of getting food to those who need it most.


Air drops could do more harm than good

Aid agencies
People may be injured if they try to retrieve food which falls in Afghanistan's many minefields.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has admitted that air drops are not as effective as taking food in by road.

MSF has dismissed the air drops as a "propaganda exercise" aimed at making the military strikes acceptable to international opinion.

Some relief officials fear that blurring the distinction between military and humanitarian operations could lead the Afghan people to identify all aid agencies with one of the parties in the conflict and imperil future humanitarian operations.

Pakistan problems

In Pakistan, the United Nations refugee agency says it has resumed work preparing refugee camps for an expected influx of Afghans.

Work had been suspended for four days due to the tense security situation in the area close to the Afghan border, which remains closed.

A UN spokesman said they had already set up more than 10,000 tents, but they were urging the government to provide more suitable sites.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Susannah Price
"The UN estimates that up to seven million people could now rely on emergency aid inside the country"
The BBC's David Cass
"Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres have slammed air drops as a public relations exercise"
See also:

09 Oct 01 | South Asia
Fears of Afghan food crisis
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
Concern over Pakistan refugee camps
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