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UN mission hails new landmark in Afghanistan's disarmament programme

17 February 2005 Afghanistan has passed a new landmark in its demobilization efforts after two decades of war and factional conflict, with more than 40,000 combatants now disarmed, about four-fifths of the total outside the national army, the United Nations mission announced today.

"This is another milestone in the disarmament process, which has kept gaining momentum since it was initiated last year," Ariane Quentier, a spokesperson for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told a news briefing in the capital Kabul.

Nearly 8,500 heavy weapons have also been consigned to secure compounds as part of the Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP).

Meanwhile UN agencies are scrambling to help local authorities respond to a spell of unusually cold weather and heavy snowfalls that have reportedly killed children, primarily in the north and central western regions, and left several areas in need of food.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is in daily contact with Government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) across the country, providing winter family kits containing basic household supplies and blankets, emergency medication, wood-burning heaters, tarps and plastic sheeting for shelter and winterized tents.

UNICEF has also sent in vaccines following unconfirmed reports of whooping cough among children.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has also airlifted emergency food and medical supplies to the most affected districts of Zabul province as well as in Kandahar province in the south, aiming to cover the needs of over 28,000 people for the next two months.

WFP has faced major difficulties to the west in reaching Saghar and Tulak districts of Ghor province to provide assistance to some 15,000 people. Two convoys of 12 trucks with 140 tons of food left from Heart on 3 February, but could not reach the districts due to heavy snowfall. One convoy offloaded 100 kilometres from its final destination, Farsi. The second convoy is still stuck, 125 kilometres from Heart.

The operations come on top of WFP's ongoing pre-positioning of food, ensuring that vulnerable Afghans living in remote, snowbound areas have sufficient food during winter. As early as September 2004, WFP started pre-positioning over 23,000 tons of food for almost 600,000 vulnerable persons in the central and western highlands and in the north and northeast. As of Monday, 21,000 tons of food has been dispatched for further distribution.

Many passes in the country remain blocked by snow and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is working with the Ministry of Public Works on a snow clearance programme throughout Afghanistan.

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