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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Blair rules out bombing pause
Afghan refugees in a World Food programme camp in Pakistan
There are fears of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan
Tony Blair has ruled out a halt to bombing and said that the Taleban regime was the biggest obstacle to aid getting through to starving Afghans.

He acknowledged that there was no way of knowing whether food and medical aid was reaching its intended targets within Afghanistan.

Speaking during question time in the House of Commons, Mr Blair said that everything possible was being done to ensure that aid was reaching starving Afghans.


It is evident now that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people

Barbara Stocking
UK Oxfam director
But the main problem was the Taleban, who harassed aid convoys.

He said that if Osama Bin Laden was not stopped he would try to commit further terrorist atrocities.

"We have no option but to continue this, to bring it to a successful conclusion and to close down that terrorist network once and for all," he declared.

Iain Duncan Smith, the new Tory leader in his first weekly question time appearance, said it was essential that having started the action "we see it through".

Earlier Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described civilian casualties as a "dismal truth" of war as British-based charities said food could no longer be delivered safely to Afghanistan.

Oxfam's plea

The aid agencies are calling for a pause in bombing to allow food to be trucked into Afghanistan.

Their appeal coincides with International Development Secretary Clare Short's visit to Pakistan to monitor the humanitarian aid effort.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's UK director, says lorry drivers are now too scared to continue taking supplies into Afghanistan, after the US Pentagon admitted mistakenly bombing a warehouse used by the Red Cross during a raid on the Afghan capital Kabul.

Ms Short has moved to rebut the claims, arguing that the rate of food supplies being delivered into Afghanistan is being increased on a daily basis.

The calls from the six aid agencies came as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met his European counterparts in Luxembourg to meet with his European counterparts ahead of a visit to Turkey to discuss the terror attacks.

'Dismal war truth'

Asked about the bombing of the Red Cross warehouse, Mr Straw said: "Everybody knows it is, I am afraid, a dismal truth of war that however careful you are when you are targeting, there sometimes will be civilian casualties and deaths."

Such errors were tragic for those concerned and of "deepest regret" to those responsible for targeting the strikes, he said.

Oxfam International - which includes Oxfam operations from 10 other countries - was joined by British agencies Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, Cafod, Tear Fund and Action Aid at a media conference in Islamabad, Pakistan to appeal for a break in the bombing raids as winter approaches in Afghanistan.

Earlier, Ms Stocking told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she understood the political difficulties but she pointed to the urgent problems faced by the Afghan people.

Clare Short, International Development Secretary
Short is visiting Pakistan to assess the aid efforts
"We cannot stand by and allow tens of thousands of people to die this winter and millions more to go through unimaginable suffering," she said.

In contrast, Ms Short said she understood the World Food Programme was now getting in food at the target daily rate.

Speaking in Pakistan, she continued: "I think we all want the conflict to come to an end as soon as possible and the bombing to be reduced as soon as possible.

"But people should not say we cannot get the food in unless that happens, because we have increased the rate on a daily basis."

Muslim support

After talks in Luxembourg, Mr Straw said the EU ministers had spelled out how to help re-establish a legitimate government in Afghanistan, with emergency humanitarian aid and a reconstruction plan key factors.

Later this week, Mr Straw will discuss the response to the US terror attacks with Turkish leaders.

The Turkish government, a Nato member, is calling for a greater say in the military operation against Afghanistan's ruling Taleban.

But the foreign secretary stressed that in general the country's leadership was backing the strikes.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has to reporters on Wednesday
Straw says Turkey plays a key role

Mr Straw told reporters: "I shall be talking to Turkish leaders, particularly Prime Minister Ecevit and Foreign Minister Cem about their advice as a country, which is in a strategic location between Europe and Asia, a secular country but with 98% of its population Muslim, about their views about Afghanistan."

Mr Straw stressed the "supportive" stance towards the coalition taken by Turkey, whose parliament has given its government approval to send troops abroad or allow foreign soldiers to be stationed in Turkey.

"It is a good indication of the fact that across the Muslim world there is great acceptance of the need for this action," he added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Tony Blair can count on the support of his Tory opponents"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"They're running out of things to pulverise"
Clare Short, International Development Secretary
"Everyone wants the military action to end as rapidly as possible"

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See also:

16 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs call for bombing halt
17 Oct 01 | South Asia
Powell gets Indian backing
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
US deploys lethal low-flying gunship
16 Oct 01 | UK Politics
'A decade to rebuild Afghanistan'
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