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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Afghanistan situation 'fragile' says Short
Afghan refugees
Aid agencies warn of a humanitarian crisis
International Development Secretary Clare Short has told MPs the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is "fragile" but a break in the bombing would make it worse.

A pause would "simply encourage the Taleban to harass humanitarian supplies more than at present to prevent further military action", Ms Short said in a Commons statement.

Last week Ms Short prompted a row with aid agencies on a visit to Pakistan by suggesting some of their "spin doctors" were exaggerating the problems in getting supplies into Afghanistan.


A pause in the bombing would simply encourage the Taleban to harass humanitarian supplies

Clare Short
The United Nations World Food Programme was nearing its target of delivering 1,700 tonnes of food a day, the international development secretary insisted.

Ms Short stressed the obstacles posed by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban, from whom aid workers feared harassment and looting.

She described calls for a bombing pause as "a grave error", adding, "We must not do it".

Ms Short said it was essential the government simultaneously pursued its three aims of bringing the US terror attackers to justice, dismantling the al-Qaeda network and continuing humanitarian supplies.

New land routes from the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, as well as air drops of food, were now options being examined by the international community.

Clare Short
Ms Short's comments incensed aid organisations
While $700m has been promised for the aid effort, only $70m had been so far been given, said Ms Short, urging all nations to deliver on their pledges.

"Although the immediate needs are covered, unless pledges are released soon ongoing operations will be hampered."

Border pressure

Pakistan has now closed its borders with Afghanistan because of the pressure of refugees.

That was a development that worried Lib Dem international affairs spokeswoman Jenny Tonge, who said undertakings must be given to Pakistan and other countries about provision for refugees.

Afghan refugees try to leave their country
Pakistan has closed its borders to refugees
But Ms Short said in practice 100 camps were being prepared in case of an "exodus" in what was a "hopeful sign".

The minister also added to the speculation about plans for more use of ground troops.

"What we hope the military to provide is area by area safe areas so that international workers will be able to return and the whole humanitarian effort will be greater."

She stressed, however, that using ground forces to provide humanitarian help was not suggested.

Shadow international development secretary Caroline Spelman asked Ms Short to acknowledge that there was not enough food being delivered for the worst affected areas.

She pointed out World Food Programme and Christian Aid estimates for the amount of supplies needed every month and suggested delivering supplies at the current rate of 1,300 a day fell short of what was needed.

'Not enough food'

"Unless the World Food Programme and Christian Aid have got their figures wrong, the basic fact is we are not getting sufficient food into these parts of the country," said Mrs Spelman.

The Tory shadow minister also raised doubts about the standards at refugee camps and about whether the food that was being supplied was reaching the right places.

A Christian Aid worker had told her how a third of the 600 tonnes of food he had taken from Pakistan to Kabul had been stolen on the way.

Mrs Spelman also pressed the government to support a campaign launched by US President George Bush for every American child to give a dollar towards food for the children of Afghanistan.

Bob Marshall-Andrews, one of the Labour MPs to oppose the bombing campaign, voiced his worries over newspaper reports suggesting landmines and delayed action cluster bombs were being dropped on Afghanistan.

Ms Short said she was certain landmines were not being used but promised to find out about the use of cluster bombs, saying: "I do not think there has been much."


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See also:

24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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Labour MPs call for bombing halt
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Millions at risk in Afghan crisis
17 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Short shrift for reticence
24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghans discuss political future
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