Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, and UN agencies in Afghanistan

Talking Points

Preminger Action Awareness Day event held at demolition site
Today’s press briefing was held at the Halo Trust demolition site, north of Kabul, and featured the destruction of mines as well as guest speakers from the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA), the Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines, Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), the Embassy of Canada, and Halo Trust.

Information on other UN activities in Afghanistan follows the “Question and Answer” section at the end of this briefing.

Daniel Bellamy, UNMACA Programme manager
Being the Programme manager for UNMACA for the coordination of mine action in Afghanistan, I would like to pay respect to all the definers who are out in the field today. They are not here in these mountains, but we have about 10,000 people all over Afghanistan trying to make the life of Afghan people safer.

The Programme started in 1989 and more than 320,000 mines have been destroyed. Twenty thousand anti-tank mines have been destroyed and more than 78,000stockpile mines have been destroyed as well.

Shofar more than one billion square meters have been cleared in Afghanistan but we still have about 716 square kilometers to clear in the coming years and I hope that before the year 2013 this area will be clear, safe and given back to the population to cultivate and raise animals and to live-in safety and dignity.

In closing I would like to thank all the agencies that have been working with us, all the definers and give special thanks to our donors. Without their generous contributions the Afghan definers would not be able to do the work they are doing every day.

Today there are mine victims present and it is my hope that in the coming days, weeks, months, years, there will be less and less victims of mines in Afghanistan.

Thank you.

Mohammad Shahab Hakim, Chairman, Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines

(Spoken Translation from Dari)
[Mr. Hakim talked about the legislative side of the fight against mines. He also talked about the Ottawa Treaty which was signed by 120 countries back in 1997, and which Afghanistan is party to.

According to the convention, the countries that are party to it are required torrid themselves of mine stockpiles within a four-year period. This means that Afghanistan, which has been a member for three years, has until March2007 to meet the convention’s requirements. Therefore we need to work very hard.

Mr.Hakimi also talked about the lack of a national Programme for addressing the problems and difficulties faced by the disabled community in Afghanistan and urged the government to try and work and develop such a programmed deal with the difficulties this disabled community is now facing. Heals talked about the need for a regulation to be developed in line with the Ottawa Convention for the government authorities to be able to bathe use and stockpiling of mines across the county.]

Dr. Farad Hometown, Programme Manager, Halo Trust Afghanistan

The work which has been done so far is just the tip of the iceberg. There are 4.2 million Afghans directly or indirectly affected by landmines. This means roughly 25 per cent of the population in Afghanistan. According to a recent landmine survey completed in 2004 over 3,268 Afghan communities have been affected by landmines. The good news is we have a very good Programme in place in Afghanistan that has been running since 1989 with UNMACA, Halo Trust and our other implementing partners. I agree with Mr.Hakimi that legislation needs to be enforced so this country can comply with the obligations of the Ottawa Convention.

Wet hank Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme, the Ministry of Defenseman our implementing partners who continue to help us in doing our job.

Thank you for coming.

Christina Green, First Secretary, Embassy of Canada

it is a pleasure to join you today as we mark Mine Awareness Week. After 30 years of conflict Afghanistan, its governance and its very land is returning to its people. Ridding this most beautiful landscape of landmines is key to the rebirth of the countryside and key to the prosperity of the country as a whole.

Canada is very pleased to support these efforts and has presided over 48 million dollars in assistance since 1998 to the anti-landmine campaign in this country. With today’s stockpile destruction we witnessed one of the more tangible examples of real progress that we are making in Afghanistan and the world of landmines. However every element of the mine action planes essential and will make a difference in the days and lives of the people. This includes mine risk education, victim assistance, and our joint efforts to promote the Ottawa Convention. The Ottawa Convention was a remarkable achievement for all of us, signed in December 1997, and came into force faster than any other treaty before it.

Canada is proud to work alongside the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan and the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme in implementing our mine action Programme.

Thank you.

Arianne Quinter, Joint Secretariat Communications Advisor, Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups

Welcome. I am speaking on behalf of Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) and this is an overview of their involvement in the destruction of stockpiles of mines as well as unsafe ammunition.

In January 2005, the Ministry of Defense (Mood), with the support of ANBP, decided to launch a survey of ammunition stockpiles, including stockpiles of mines. The survey, which started as a pilot project in four cities, was to assess stockpiles belonging to the Afghan Military Forces, (AMF), while undergoing the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process.

By May the survey had expanded twofold. Geographically, throughout all of Afghanistan, with the deployment of 8 joint Mood/ ANBP teams; and in scope by including transport or hand over of ammunition.

Ammunition deemed safe to be transported were taken to consolidated points, while ammunition to be destroyed were handed over for destruction. The transport and/or destruction of ammunition was carried out by ANBP’s implementing partners: Halo Trust and – at the time – Rondo

The project took a new turn last July, when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed an agreement with the Afghan Government where by ANBP, through its implementing partners, Halo Trust and now UXB, is supporting the Ministry of Defense in destroying unsafe ammunition as well as all mines.

This agreement will not only allow the Government of Afghanistan to alleviate the dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance, but it will support Afghanistan in meeting its obligations as per the Ottawa Convention, which provides for the destruction of all its anti-personnel landmines by March 2007.

The project signed with the Afghan government is a two-year project which will cost US$16 million dollars. It would not have been possible without the support of key financial donors such as Canada and the UK as well as in kind donors like the United States.

To date, in the framework of this project which is now extended to the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) Programme 34,015 anti-personnel landmines and 4,652 anti-tank landmines have been destroyed while 847 ammunitions caches were surveyed, for a total of 31,000 tons of all sorts of ammunition, including mines.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Question: What are the main challenges you face? Why has Afghanistan not been able to get rid of mines?

Dr.Homayoun: During the twenty-three years of the conflict in the country, governments and different groups laid out mines in different parts of the country. And this has not been done in a technical and professional plan. There is not enough information or maps to show the places where these mines have been lying. There are maps from Soviet occupation time. However, with the continuation of the conflict after the Soviet Union even those maps have not been as useful as it should have been. Despite the problems that still lay ahead of us we believe we have had a lot of achievement. The second part of your question: why we have not been able to destroy all of the mines we have in the country. I should add that survey is being conducted and thousands of stockpiles have been collected and destroyed, but because of the nature of the problem and nature of the country, mine are scattered in each parts of the country, it is huge and it requires time.

Question: What will happen if Afghanistan is not able to meet the Ottawa Convention by 2007?

Mr.Hakimi: Every country that is part of the Ottawa Convention is obliged to meet this requirement. If the country does meet the requirement under the given timeline, they will need to explain it to the international community. If the international community finds the explanation convincing then they may extend the time given to the concerned country to comply with its obligation under the convention. Other than that the country will have violated the convention.

Question: There are some commanders who are still in possession of such land mines. How do you assess their cooperation with the landmine programmes?

Arianne Quinter: The DDR Programme was completed and now the DIAG Programme is being implemented. The Ministry of Defense, with cooperation from the ANBP, has been collecting all sources of ammunition from the former commanders. Many commanders had their own initiative in handing over their stockpiles of mines.

Diaries now in a revelatory phase. Commanders handed over their weapons and their ammunitions voluntarily. However the collection of weapons is being implemented by DIAG. DIAG is more than just weapons collection. It is also ammunition collection and ultimately the disarmament of armed groups. Off the top of my head, I would say there has been like 70,000 pieces of ammunition and that includes mines that have been handed over

Other UN-related news

Three further cases of H5 avian influenza found in Afghanistan
Three further cases of the H5 type of bird flu have been confirmed in the past couple of days. Two were from chickens in Kabul and one from sparrow in Gardez.

This brings to 29, the number of H5 cases that have been found so far, in seven provinces. Determination of the sub type in these latest cases is still awaited.

The Food and Agriculture Organizations continues to test poultry and other birds collected in different provinces. Thus far in Afghanistan, avian influenza remains confined to the bird population, with no human cases reported. Last week media reported a possible bird flu case in the west of the country. A government investigation team is following up this week but so far bird flu has not been confirmed there.

The government has appointed a National Action Committee to coordinate further activities to control the disease. It is receiving expert advice from the Food & Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and other agencies in Afghanistan.

UNHCR: 600 per week returning to Afghanistan
Figures released by the UN Refugee Agency’s repatriation programmer veal that on average 600 Afghans per week have returned home since March1.

Shofar more than 7,000 refugees have made their way back from Pakistan and Iran, since the Programme resumed after the winter.

Then High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 400,000 people may return to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2006. Last year UNHCR assisted more than 500,000 Afghans to return home.

Correspondents Association offers fellowships to journalists
Journalists from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America can apply for one of four fellowships to report on the United Nations 61st General Assembly. Application deadline is April 17.

Fellows report from New York on the assembly’s session from early September to early November for their home news media. The UN Correspondents Association established the fellowships in memory of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in 1961. The scholarship covers airfare, lodging, health insurance and a daily allowance for basic needs.

The association is adding a new fellowship this year for mid-career journalists aged 35 to 45. Applicants for this fellowship should have 10 to 15 years of journalism experience with interest in foreign policy. This fellow will develop an in-depth project during the session. Other fellowship applicants should be journalists between the ages of 25 and 35 with excellent English and current employment at a major newspaper or broadcast station.

Last year’s winners hailed from Ethiopia, Lebanon, the Maldives and Nepal.