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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 16:45 GMT
Taleban demand UN aid
Afghan refugees wait outside a medical centre
More than two million people have already fled
Taleban officials have warned that Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taleban representative in Pakistan, called on the United Nations and other agencies to help thousands of people displaced by the bombing.

We demand that the UN help the people of Afghanistan inside Afghan territory

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef
The Taleban call came after a coalition of charitable groups urged the United States to respect humanitarian law in its war against terrorism, calling for "exceptional attempts to protect civilians".

In a joint report, humanitarian, religious, human rights and civil liberties organisations stressed the need for justice in tackling international terrorists.

Afghan refugees were meanwhile said to be fleeing in growing numbers following the US refusal to suspend bombing for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In other developments

  • The Northern Alliance opposition say they are preparing for a large-scale offensive against the Taleban
  • International charities urge Washington to show consideration for Afghan civilians
  • More US special forces move into Afghanistan to co-ordinate air strikes, the Pentagon says
  • Traces of anthrax have been found in a post office inside the Pentagon and a number of workers are being given anti-biotics as a precaution
  • The Taleban claim successes after fierce battles with opposition forces near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif
  • An American arrested in Afghanistan 10 days ago has died of natural causes while in custody in Kandahar, according to the Taleban
  • A former Saudi intelligence chief says the Taleban were prepared to hand over Bin Laden in 1998, but the plan was killed by US missile strikes on Afghanistan
Issue obscured

UN officials say their work has been severely hampered by the bombing and Taleban harassment.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef
Zaeef: "UN concerns are political"
Speaking on behalf of the Taleban, Mr Zaeef said their reservations were politically motivated and the only threat came from American bombs.

But UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said her organisation did "not play politics" and was continuing to work inside Afghanistan using local staff and charities.

The BBC's Daniel Lak, who is in Islamabad, says the risk is that this sort of dispute will obscure the huge and pressing humanitarian needs of millions of Afghans as the winter approaches.

Their fate is also worrying international charities which have urged Washington to ensure that countries do not use the war to justify repression of minority groups.

Aid dependent

The coalition - which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Save the Children - has called for "safe access to humanitarian aid and security for humanitarian workers" and "exceptional attempts to protect civilians".

Humanitarian crisis
6 million will be dependent on aid in winter
2 million have fled Afghanistan
Many more are stuck in makeshift camps or unable to leave
10,000 children could die unless food reaches them in the next six weeks
It is estimated by aid agencies that as many as six million people will be entirely dependant on international aid when the winter sets in.

More than two million people have already fled Afghanistan, but many more are either stuck in makeshift border camps or are simply too poor or too weary to leave their own homes.

Early frosts

On Sunday, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected Pakistan's call to stop bombing Afghanistan during Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has warned that bombing during the Muslim holy month will have a "huge negative fallout".

The Associated Press news agency reported that scores more Afghan families fled over the barren Khyber Pass towards the Pakistani town of Torkham over the weekend.

Many said they had finally made the decision to flee since it had become clear the bombing was not going to stop.

Carpet bombing
Pakistan has warned of 'huge fallout' if the bombing continues over Ramadan
Whatever the strategic intentions of the war planners, snow has begun to fall on the Pagham Hills north of Kabul, indicating an early start to Afghanistan's brutal winter.

The UN Children's Fund, Unicef, has warned that as many as 10,000 children will die in Afghanistan this winter unless food reaches them within the next six weeks.

Heather Hill, spokeswoman for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said the clock was ticking and would "not stop ticking on November 15" - the traditional start of the Afghan winter.

Air drops

The WFP is trying to organise air drops of vital food and medicine supplies in the north of Afghanistan.

It has said the number of desperate people in the region had risen dramatically and could reach up to two million by December.

The agency believes the most vulnerable are about 700,000 people in and around the Panjshir Valley, the mountainous province of Badakhshan in the northeast of the country and the central highlands.

Old man flees through the Khyber Pass
Aid agencies are desperate for access to the most needy
"They are in danger of starvation if the WFP cannot provide food aid to them," said the WFP's spokesman in Pakistan, Kaled Mansour.

He said the WFP was planning to buy 20 snow ploughs to keep mountain passes open for vital access during food distributions.

But, according to the UN, convoys are being hampered by the US bombing campaign, harassment of aid staff by the Taleban militia and the difficulty of finding lorry drivers willing to enter Afghanistan.

Mr Mansour said he hoped that "those who plan from big distances far away" understood the fate of the Afghan people was at stake.

The BBC's Clive Myrie
"The men who make a living smuggling Afghans abroad... actually call themselves travel agents"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | South Asia
Picture gallery: Afghan refugees
05 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Rebel MP visits refugee camps
03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugee women at risk
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iran refugee camps 'getting worse'
31 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan sends back most needy Afghans
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
US rejects Pakistan Ramadan plea
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