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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 22:38 GMT
UN prepares major Afghan relief effort
Uzbek soldiers guard UN aid destined for Afghanistan in the city of Termez, Uzbekistan
The UN has been stockpiling food for the Afghan people
Workers in Uzbekistan have begun loading vital supplies of UN food aid onto river barges in preparation for their shipment to northern Afghanistan.

On Monday Uzbekistan opened its border to Afghanistan for the first time in four years, boosting the UN's emergency operation.

The UN's World Food Programme has been stockpiling supplies of food, medicine and clothing in preparation in the town of Termez, where the goods have been heavily guarded by Uzbek soldiers.

The UN says the operation will begin once there are confirmed reports that the roads and warehouses in northern Afghanistan are safe, but a lack of information from a UN team checking the security situation within the country means the aid is unlikely to move before Wednesday.

Once in Afghanistan, UN aid workers aim to distribute aid at key ports near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, newly captured by the Northern Alliance.

Looting

The UN said that some of its warehouses, and those of non-governmental organisations, were looted on Monday following the city's collapse into the hands of Northern Alliance soldiers.

Afghan children refugees in a refugee camp in Quetta, Pakistan
It is feared that millions of Afghans could starve
UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said that there had also been unconfirmed reports of sporadic violence and executions.

"The United Nations is urging all parties to make every effort to respect international humanitarian law and respect human rights," she said.

Convoy seized

A Unicef spokesperson also said that a 200-tonne convoy of food and supplies was seized by Northern Alliance soldiers at the time the city fell.

Chulho Hyun said that the fund was attempting to establish contact with an opposition commander in order to retrieve the aid.

"The trucks themselves and the supplies, we presume have all been taken to the commander's base in Mazar-e-Sharif) for protection," he said.

Uzbekistan closed its border to Afghanistan in 1997 after the Taleban captured Mazar-e-Sharif, which is some 60 kilometres (38 miles) from Termez.

Aid workers say millions of Afghans face starvation as winter sets in, if aid operations are not successful.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
reports on the refugee situation from Khoja-bahaauddin
Terry Giles from Save the Children in Uzbekistan
"What is needed now is a significant amount of supplies to go in"
See also:

25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Aid warning as supplies run out
17 May 01 | South Asia
US announces Afghan aid package
09 Nov 01 | South Asia
Race to beat polio in Afghan camps
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