SLUG: 2-280959 Afghanistan/Communications Blackout (L-O)
TITLE=AFGHANISTAN / COMMUNICATIONS BLACKOUT (L ONLY)
INTRO: The U-N's World Food Program, W-F-P, said Monday that representatives of the Taleban have taken over its offices and seized its food supplies in the city of Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. And as Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva, other U-N agencies in addition to the W-F-P are saying that Taleban members have been interfering with their work.
TEXT: World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume tells VOA the agency is calling on Taleban leaders to ensure the safety of its local Afghan staff and to return the food that was taken. She says it is critical that the Taleban allow aid workers to continue their humanitarian work.
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We have problems in communication with our staff on the ground as the Taleban has occupied the office too and this is an extremely serious development that could disrupt, if not completely stop, our aid work in some of the southern provinces in Afghanistan. This is a very worrying development.
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The World Food Program feeds nearly four-million Afghans. Ms. Berthiaume says, for now, the food distribution programs in the northern part of the country and in the capital Kabul are continuing. But she says they too could be threatened if Taleban officials do not end the communications blackout they imposed on local U-N aid workers last Friday.
Earlier this month, all the international aid agencies that have operations in Afghanistan withdrew their foreign workers, and since then operations inside the country have been run by local Afghan employees.
Meanwhile, another U-N agency is also reporting serious problems. Marc Vergara, a spokesman for the U-N children's fund, UNICEF, says its operations are in jeopardy because of communications problems caused by Taleban actions. Mr. Vergara says the UNICEF staff in Afghanistan is no longer permitted to communicate with UNICEF expatriate staff in Pakistan.
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On Friday, there was an edict by the Taleban authorities stating that U-N local staff, as well, could not communicate with the outside world. Therefore, we asked local staff left in Afghanistan to stop working on UNICEF programs, for example vaccination programs that (were) quite well advanced.
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Mr. Vergara says the Taleban authorities have taken over UNICEF's office in Kabul and sealed off the international communications room, which contains telephones and radios.
In yet another action reported Monday, U-N refugee agency officials say the Taleban seized its office in Kandahar and told the local staff to stop communicating with its headquarters in Pakistan.
The U-N agencies are warning that millions of Afghans will be hurt if the communications blackout is not lifted. (Signed)
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