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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Short clashes with aid agencies
US aid is unloaded from a truck
Aid agencies fear that not enough food will be delivered
Oxfam is accusing International Development Secretary Clare Short and the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) of serving "political masters" by refusing to urge a pause to bombing in Afghanistan.

The claim comes after Ms Short outraged aid agencies by claiming their "spin doctors" are exaggerating the difficulty of getting supplies into Afghanistan.

Ms Short has rejected calls for a halt to bombing as unreal and emotional, saying such a move was not "a real alternative".

The only way to avert a humanitarian crisis was to drive the Taleban from power, she said.


The lorry drivers are scared of driving slow, heavy trucks in a war zone

Christian Aid spokesman

But Justin Forsyth, policy director of the chairty Oxfam, said on Friday: "Clare Short ... and the WFP are influenced by their political masters and therefore they have to put a political spin on the situation."

Mr Forsyth told BBC Radio 4's World At One Programme the situation was far too serious to get into a "slanging match" with Ms Short and called for a "conversation based on the facts".

Khaled Mansour, the WFP's spokesman in Islamabad, said 23,000 tonnes of food were needed by early December but only two areas, containing 600,000 people would be cut off by the winter.

'Aid continues'

"The WFP would welcome any kind of resolution that would put a stop to the bombing," he said.

"But as a matter of fact we have been able in one form or another to continue working."

Mr Forsyth rejected that claim, saying: "We don't believe them.

Clare Short
Ms Short's comments have incensed aid organisations
He continued: "What we have on the ground is no food and we know from the figures the WFP have given us in Pakistan that they are delivering less than half the food that is needed."

Ms Short provoked a row at the end of a trip to Pakistan with her comments on aid agency calls for a bombing pause.

She told BBC Radio 4's World Tonight: "I met local representatives of all these agencies, as opposed to their spin-doctors ...

"I asked each one whether they knew of their delivery systems inside Afghanistan and most of the agencies said 'yes the distribution networks are holding up'."

Insisting she was not being complacent, Ms Short continued: "The spin doctors of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are making exaggerated claims but I think for honourable reasons."

The minister later told the Guardian newspaper that stopping the military action was not a "real alternative, it's emotional".

Weather worry

She went on to suggest that as each area of Afghanistan was made safe, international aid could be moved in.

"I imagine a set of virtuous dominoes.

"Area after area where it becomes safe to move, international staff return, the humanitarian operation becomes more successful and then ideally with a new Afghan government whose authority is extended bit by bit."

But a spokesman for Christian Aid warned some areas of Afghanistan would soon be cut off by snow.

"We need to get 70,000 tonnes to them in the next few weeks and we are not going to be able to do that.

"The lorry drivers are scared of driving slow, heavy trucks in a war zone, and understandably so - mistakes do and will happen," he told the Times.


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See also:

16 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs call for bombing halt
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Millions at risk in Afghan crisis
12 Oct 01 | South Asia
UN urges pause in air strikes
17 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Short shrift for reticence
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