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February 7, 2006

Thirteen dead in southern Afghanistan bomb blast
Tuesday February 7, 3:46 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A powerful bomb exploded outside the police headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killing 13 people and wounding 11 others, a doctor said.

The interior ministry confirmed the blast was caused by a bomb. A destroyed motorbike was at the scene of the blast, which was splattered in blood, an AFP correspondent said on Tuesday.

"Thirteen people, most of them police, have died in the bomb blast in Kandahar city and were taken to the Kandahar public health hospital," a doctor on duty, who gave his name as Mamoon, told AFP.

"Eleven are wounded, most of them in critical condition," he said.

Police and Canadian soldiers with the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan immediately sealed off the area, which is outside the provincial police headquarters.

Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban movement which rose to control most of Afghanistan by 1996, has seen the worst of a rash of suicide and car bomb attacks that have claimed dozens of lives in past weeks.

Around 1,700 people were killed in insurgent-linked violence last year, many of them militants killed by Afghan security forces or by troops from the US-led coalition helping the government to hunt down insurgents.

The fundamentalist Taliban were toppled by a US-led bombing campaign in late 2001 after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Four killed as Afghan crowd attacks Norwegian base
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police opened fire on a mob trying to storm a NATO peacekeeping base housing Norwegian troops on Tuesday, killing four people and wounding 18 as protests over cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammad flared again.

British troops were being sent to the northwestern city of Maymana to secure the airfield after crowds attacked a NATO base with guns and grenades.

"Police had to open fire. Some people are aiming to disrupt and disturb security," said Azim Hakimi, spokesman for the provincial security department.

"Some people used guns," he said.

Crowds of young men also threw grenades and petrol bombs at the camp manned by Norwegian troops. Two Norwegian soldiers were slightly hurt.

A Dutch peacekeeper was hurt by a stone during a protest in Baghlan, also in the north, the provincial governor said.

The Norwegians fired teargas while NATO F-16 jets flew over Maymana in a show of force, a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.

"ISAF is operating under difficult circumstances and is exercising the fullest possible restraint. Reinforcements have been sent," a NATO official in Europe said.

"The situation is still out of control, but we have established some kind of a show of force with F-16s," Norway's defense ministry said.

An ISAF spokesman declined to say how many British troops were being set to secure the airfield.

The     United Nations said non-essential staff were being evacuated from the city. U.N. and aid groups offices were attacked during bloody riots in May sparked by a Newsweek magazine report about desecration of the Koran.

There were also protests in Jalalabad in the east, Herat in the west and the capital, Kabul, where for a second day crowds of young men stoned the Danish embassy before club-wielding police beat them off. Windows of nearby houses were smashed.

At least three Afghans were killed in protests in different parts of the country on Monday.

"ISLAM IS DEFAMED"
Across the border in Pakistan, about 5,000 Islamists paraded through Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, which is ruled by an Islamist coalition made up of several pro-Taliban groups.

Another 5,000 people rallied in North Waziristan, a restive tribal region that has been the scene of battles between Pakistani security forces and al Qaeda-linked militants in recent years.

The protests in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province were the largest since the beginning of the controversy.

"Islam is being defamed through such cartoons. It is a terrorist act," said provincial chief minister Akram Durrani, who led the rally. "Those responsible for publishing such cartoons must be punished under international law."

The controversy over the cartoons was reignited when several European newspapers reprinted the caricatures, including one showing Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, saying press freedom was more important than religious taboos.

The Islamists in Pakistan directed their anger against the United States even though the cartoons have hardly been published in the U.S. media and the United States criticized their publication.

"We are condemning America because it is patronizing those who printed the cartoons," said cleric Mohammad Sadiq.

Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, summoned diplomats of several European countries last week to lodge a protest over the reprinting of the cartoons.

While the street protests have failed to draw big crowds in Pakistan the issue has offended many of the Islamic nation's population of 150 million.

"What has been published is absolutely wrong, but it is up to the central government to lodge a protest," said Mohammad Aqeel, a shopkeeper, who did not take part in the demonstration.

His views were echoed by Pakistan International Airlines pilot Captain Kashan Dodhy and former TV presenter Ayesha Khan.

"Obviously this is something extremely wrong, and to protest against it is our right," Dodhy said. "But that doesn't mean people should resort to violence -- Islam is a peace-loving religion.

Afghans say thwart al Qaeda suicide bomber
Monday, February 6, 2006; 7:48 AM
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces thwarted a suicide bomb attack on a provincial governor on Monday and arrested a suspected al Qaeda member from Mali, the governor said.

Ustad Atta Mohammad, governor of Balkh province, said the suspect, who he identified as Kroma Yahya from Mali, had been intercepted with a vest packed with explosives, on his way to a meeting with the governor.

"He has been watched by security forces for days and today he was due to meet me," Mohammad told reporters.

"He had attached explosives in his waistcoat to kill me in a suicide raid, but security forces aborted it after checking him before the meeting," he said.

Mohammad said Yahya had recently come to Mazar-i-Sharif to set up a school, and he belonged to al Qaeda.

Authorities were questioning him and would hand him over to the U.S. military, Mohammad said.

A government official in Kabul confirmed the arrest of a suspected suicide bomber from Mali but declined to give details.

Mohammad was a prominent commander in the Northern Alliance opposition to the Taliban that helped U.S. forces oust the Taliban in 2001.

Dozens of people have been killed in a wave of bombings across Afghanistan, including 14 suicide attacks, in recent months.

Authorities in southern Afghanistan last week said they had arrested several suspected militants including five Pakistanis, an Iranian and an Iraqi.

The government says Taliban and al Qaeda militants are cooperating in their campaign to drive out U.S. and other foreign troops and defeat the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan Strips Licenses From NGOs
KABUL,Afghanistan; February 7 2006(RFE/RL) -- The Afghan government today stripped operating licenses from more than 1,600 Afghan and international nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.
Speaking in Kabul, Minister for Economics Mohammad Amin Farhang said the stripped NGOs are accused of economic fraud and corruption.

In the past year, corruption at NGOs has been a major topic of discussion among Afghan politicians and policy makers. Farhang says that Kabul is determined to make NGOs transparent and fully accountable for their activities.

Commandos off to Afghanistan to protect Indians
AJAY KAUL, NEW DELHI, FEB 7 (PTI)
Over two months after the killing of a BRO jawan and subsequent threats to some other Indians in Afghanistan, India is sending a large contingent of para-military forces, mainly commandos, to the war-torn country to ensure security of its nationals working there.

Government has decided to send about 300 personnel of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to Afghanistan for security of the personnel of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) working on construction of a highway in south of the country between Kandahar and Iran border, official sources told PTI here today.

At least 80 security personnel have already been despatched and they have begun their duties, they said.

The rest will be sent there shortly, the sources said, adding training in this regard was being imparted to those detailed for the task.

A Commandant-rank officer is also likely be deputed to Afghanistan to oversee the security arrangements.

Given the scenario in which protection has to be provided, the ITBP personnel deputed for the task are commandos, specially trained in proximate security, they said.

Till now, a minuscule ITBP contingent of about 20 personnel was posted in Kabul, mainly for protection of the Indian Embassy.

The decision to send the security personnel has been taken on the basis of a report submitted by a high-level team comprising officials of Ministries of External Affairs and Home Affairs which assessed the threat perception to Indians working in Afghanistan.

The officials had been sent there shortly after the abduction-and-killing of BRO driver M R Kutty at the hands of the Taliban and threats issued to many Indians, working on various developmental projects there.

36-year-old Kutty was abducted on November 20 along with two locals when he was travelling in Kandahar province in South Afghanistan. His body was found three days later dumped by the roadside.

The killers of Kutty had left a slip demanding that BRO wind up its operations in Afghanistan and leave the country.

Kutty was among the nearly 300 BRO personnel engaged in construction of a 218-km long highway between Delaram and Zaranj in Kandahar Province.

Being built by India at a cost of USD 80 million (Rs 3.6 crore approximately), the road will link Afghanistan's Garland Highway to the Iran border and onwards to the Chahbahar port in Iran, providing a shorter route between Afghanistan and Iran and cutting the distance drastically by 1000 kms.

Less than a month after Kutty's killing, Taliban issued death threats to 10 Indians, including doctors, working at various hospitals under a humanitarian aid programme.

Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the SRSG in Afghanistan
Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)  06 Feb 2006 TALKING POINTS
London Conference Outcome
Today is day six of the Afghanistan Compact. If you have not yet read this document, as well as the accompanying interim Afghan National Development Strategy (iANDS) and Afghanistan's Millennium Development Goals Report, these are available to you via UNAMA's website www.unama-afg.org. I encourage all of you as journalists to take the time to look through these for yourselves.

We were very pleased with the level of international backing for Afghanistan shown at last week's London Conference. With more than 60 nations represented, plus international organizations, around a third of the entire member states of the United Nations were present. Although this was not a pledging conference, donor nations did use the opportunity of the conference to pledge some $10.5 billion towards implementation of the iANDS. About 80% to 90% of this was entirely new money.

Work on translating the Afghanistan Compact into concrete achievements has already begun. A priority is to establish the Monitoring and Coordination Board for the Compact. As you may know, several benchmarks, among them the review of administrative units and their boundaries, establishment of a clear and transparent appointments system for national appointments, ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption, and development of sustainable water resource management strategies and plans, aim at completion within 2006. The clock on the Afghanistan Compact is thus ticking.

IOM and UNICEF to assist war-affected children

The International Organization for Migration has entered into a partnership agreement with UNICEF to implement a programme that reintegrates war-affected children, including those previously employed on or close to battlefields.

The programme, which is being funded by UNICEF ($348,240) and the Government of Italy ($119,444) at a cost of $468,000, will allow 700 youth in the western provinces of Ghor and Bagdhis to restart their education and learn much-needed skills.

Six training centers will be set up by IOM giving courses in self-awareness, self-confidence, literacy, communication, numeric skills and team sports.

UNICEF estimates there are around 8,000 former underage soldiers in Afghanistan. The vast majority missed out on years of education.

IOM releases first issue of monthly newsletter

The International Organization for Migration just released the first issue of a monthly newsletter, highlighting its work in Afghanistan. .

UNICEF, WFP provide relief in wake of Badakhshan avalanche

Last week's heavy snowfall and avalanches in parts of Badakhshan affected a number of families. Both UNICEF and the World Food Programme have provided immediate response.

UNICEF released 100 family kits containing essential household supplies such as cooking utensils, plastic sheeting, and soap as well as 500 blankets to government authorities in Ragh and other districts of Badakhshan.

Meanwhile WFP contributed one ton of biscuits, which has been dispatched from Kabul to Ragh.

Half a metric ton of oil and five metric tons of wheat flour are on stand by in Faizabad for delivery. The food will be delivered by ISAF to the following villages: Arghan sha, Shegnan, Nusai, Khahan, and Koofab.

Book supporting Afghan women's participation in politics available from UNFPA

A book aimed at helping Afghan women who are interested in participating in politics is being made available by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The book, is entitled "Our Country, My Role", and looks at aspects of democracy as well as stories about the part women have played in the development of democratic societies in other countries. It also supports Afghan women as they take an interest in politics, and aims at developing their skills in taking an active part in the political process.

Copies of the book can be viewed in Dari, Pashto and English on the UNFPA website, http://afghanistan.unfpa.org.

For orders please contact Mr. Said at +93 (0) 70 087 243 (khan@unfpa.org).

UNOPS, World Bank team to give Nimroz airport building a facelift

The airport building in Nimroz is sporting a new look following completion of some $165,000 worth of renovation work.

The renovations which were funded by the World Bank and the United Nations Office for Project Services commenced in April 2005 and were completed by a local construction company (Shendand).

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have any idea of the number of children soldiers right now engaged in armed groups across Afghanistan? And how much has been done since the beginning of the Interim Administration in Afghanistan to reintegrate these child soldiers back into normal life?

Spokesperson: UNICEF, and as you've heard IOM, are involved in projects to support the reintegration of children who were formerly engaged in employment or worked close to battlefield situations. As I mentioned UNICEF estimates the numbers at about 8,000 in Afghanistan. For those of you who attend our briefings regularly we have had entire briefings on this issue before, where we brought in specialists from UNICEF and other agencies to speak on these issues.

Question: My question is related to yesterday's incident in Mazar-e-Sharif where an Iranian national committed self-immolation in protest at the denial of his demand for refugee status. His demand has been rejected by UNAMA and UNHCR. Why is it that UNAMA and UNHCR normally act too late in these cases? There was also a similar case several months ago where a Kashmiri set fire to himself and after that the necessary actions were taken. And what actions will UNAMA take to prevent such cases from happening in the future?

Spokesperson: This is a very regrettable incident, and a tragic one. We are still trying to ascertain the reasons for this act yesterday. But clearly this is something that concerns and distresses all of us. With regard to the individual application for refugee status that is a matter dealt with by UNHCR in confidentiality. And I'm afraid I'm not privy myself to the details of this particular claim.

Question: What measure will UNAMA take to prevent such cases from happening in the future?

Spokesperson: It is very hard to take measures to prevent these kinds of things from happening. We cannot physically restrain people from coming close to our compounds, nor would we intend to. However, I think we are aware with these cases there's a lot of emotion involved. It's not only in Afghanistan that you get distressed asylum seekers. We do all we can to prevent emotions getting out of hand, and we also have to look at each of these instances and try to learn afterwards was there more that we could have done to intervene.

Question: Do you think the application of such individuals should be studied before they do such things or after that?

Spokesperson: I'm not sure I follow the question. I think, clearly, if you want to understand the processes going in someone's mind you need to approach them, obviously, before an incident like this.

Question: If you did not forget to respond they would not undertake such actions.

Spokesperson: The decision on refugee status is not made by UNAMA. It's made by the UN refugee agency. As you know the UN refugee agency, even with just Afghanistan, has dealt with millions of cases. Our colleagues there are extremely aware of the sensitivity in dealing with these cases. And as I said before when something like this happens it's tragic.

Question: The security situation in the southern part of the country has not been stable during the past few days. Are you worried about the security situation of your staff in the southern part of the country?

Spokesperson: The security of our staff is always of paramount concern to us. I'd like to refer you back to the Afghanistan Compact – as you may have seen this document takes a very close look at the security situation in Afghanistan. It recognizes that this is a very difficult issue and cannot just be dealt with by military action alone. And I think it shows recognition all around that there is very difficult work that has to go on but is essential to improving the security situation in Afghanistan.

Question: Do these particular incidents in the south make you more worried of the security situation of your staff or not?

Spokesperson: I think I'll look at that from a larger perspective. If you look back over the past four years you'll see that throughout this period there have been security incidents. There were [such incidents] at the time of the Loya Jirga; there were at the time of the Presidential Election, and certainly during the parliamentary elections. I think one of the lessons we've learned from these past four years is that the efforts to continue rebuilding Afghanistan haven't stopped as a result of security problems. Of course the security problems make the process of rebuilding a more complex one. But while there are security problems I think with Afghanistan, with this whole nation-rebuilding project, the train left the station back in 2001 and security problems haven't derailed it to date.

Question: I haven't seen the Afghanistan Compact but I would like to know whether the $10.5 billion pledged for Afghanistan during the next five years – is all the money assistance to Afghanistan or is part of it as a loan to Afghanistan which Afghanistan needs to pay back in the future? And one of the government officials spoke of a co-ordination monitoring body which also includes international members – I would like to know specifically which countries are involved with this monitoring board.

Spokesperson: On the first part of the question -- the money delivered in aid pledges -- each donor country has its own rules on how they can deliver aid so it's a little bit difficult to answer with specifics but I think you have to go back to the pledges from individual donors and look at those in more detail. On the second part, on the composition of this monitoring and coordination body, the work of the composition of that is happening right now. As I mentioned we feel a great sense of urgency with this compact – it's one thing to have a conference in London but it's another to translate that into concrete reality. So that urgency is reflected in the movement now to get things going with this body and to really ensure that the benchmarks and timelines can be achieved. As soon as the composition is finalized we'd be happy to let you know.

Question: With regard to the cartoons published in Denmark do you support it or condemn it?

Spokesperson: In the past few days UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has made clear that he shares the distress of Muslims who feel that the cartoons offend their religion, and he also respects the right to freedom of speech. Needless to say freedom of speech is not absolute but entails responsibility and judgment. As you know the newspaper in Denmark that initially published the cartoons has now apologized. The United Nations has always respected the right to worship as well as freedom of speech. And in our view it is wrong to consider these rights as being mutually exclusive so we urge all parties to understand this and also to avoid doing anything that might further inflame the current situation.

Today's Guest

Last month, donors pledged $1.9 billion towards the international effort to prevent the spread of Bird Flu. Today's guest is here to talk about the risks for Afghanistan as this winter progresses.

Giancarlo Ferrari, is a specialist in Veterinary Epidemiology with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He is currently leader of an FAO funded project called "Controlling Transboundary Animal Diseases in Central Asian Countries".

Giancarlo Ferrari, FAO Veterinary Epidemiology specialist

I will begin by giving you some information about the risk of Avian Influenza being transmitted to Afghanistan because at the moment we do not have any evidence of this disease in the country. It is present in different parts of the world. Even in Europe, outbreaks have happened in Turkey.

I think one important thing that should be taken into consideration, and this is according to the recent observations of outbreaks in Turkey which have been detected recently as well as Russia and Kazakhstan, is that one important role for the introduction of Avian Influenza can be due to migratory birds.

So if we go to the question of how the virus can be introduced in Afghanistan, in which I repeat we do not have any evidence of the virus, we should take into consideration for the virus to be introduced through migratory birds. So that is one way.

The other way could be through trading. It is very difficult to predict because migratory birds have certain flying patterns, but they will move according to different temperatures – if it is too cold they will only fly short distances. So I think this is very difficult to predict.

The other important thing is how do the migratory birds transfer the virus. What is known is the virus is not only H5N1. Usually wild ducks are the natural reservoirs for these viruses. If these animals are infected with Avian Influenza virus they will carry the virus and they will be perfectly healthy without showing any kinds of disease.

This is very important to know because the presence of this virus in these animals should not affect their ability to fly. When they cover long distances, they need to be in good health and need to have a lot of energy. If the disease is in a way affecting these animals they are not able to cover such long distances.

This is true for many types of influenza viruses. One of the problems we have at the moment with the H5N1 virus is that we still do not know which species exactly is playing a role in the spreading of the virus.

What has been observed is that whenever the virus has been introduced in wetland areas some wild bird species have been affected by H5N1 and some wild birds have died. This means that in most of the cases if the virus is introduced in the wetlands by an unknown carrier we might have some evidence of the presence of the virus because other wild birds would die.

If we assume that the virus can be present in the wild bird population I think we should then ask how the virus can pass through the domestic poultry population. What has been observed so far is that in most circumstances the passage of the virus from the wild bird to the domestic one has occurred because the domestic poultry were raised around wetland areas where direct contact with wild birds was possible.

The next question to ask is 'how can the virus reach humans, and how can humans be affected by the H5N1?'

At the moment the information suggests that the transmission to humans has occurred because of direct contact with infected domestic poultry. There is no evidence so far of humans acquiring the infection because of contact with wild birds.

The other important thing is that whenever there have been cases in humans, so far there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. This means that for this infection humans are considered dead-end hosts, meaning that no occurrence of human-to-human transmission has been detected.

If we bear in mind this chain of transmission, we should ask if the entrance of transmission from wild birds can be prevented, from this point of view there is not much that can be done because we cannot stop birds from migrating - usually resting areas for wild birds are well known in each country. So these areas can be monitored. Therefore we can see if some abnormalities can be noticed among the wild bird population.

The other question might be 'Can we prevent the virus from entering the domestic population?' I would say 'yes', this can be done because through awareness and surveillance we can actually prevent the virus to spill over from the wild birds to the domestic birds.

Finally I would like to underline the fact that transmission from humans can be avoided. Whenever this has occurred it is because these people have been heavily exposed to the virus. Whenever there have been outbreaks, and I spent some time in Turkey recently, the infection affected little children mainly due to the fact that the children were in their houses, the temperature was cold and they used to keep chickens inside the house. With a sick chicken, instead of calling a veterinarian the family simply killed and ate the chicken – and it's not a matter of eating the chicken but handling the infected organs.

In this case much can be done in educating people that in the case of sick birds one must be careful on handling intestines and other sick organs, that is a good way to prevent the virus from being spread.

Questions & Answers

Question: With regard to the transmission of the H5N1 virus, why is it that some infected wild ducks can carry the virus for long distances and not be affected?

Giancarlo Ferrari: Regarding the wild ducks, for most of the influenza viruses it is recognized that the wild ducks are the healthy carriers. It is likely that for the H5N1 there are some species belonging to the wild duck family which might be the carrier of the virus, but we don't know yet what is the exact species that is the healthy carrier of this particular virus.

Question: How is it possible a bird can transmit the virus and still be healthy?

Giancarlo Ferrari: For many diseases you have healthy carriers. That is where the virus is going to persist because otherwise if we adopt the point of view of the virus it doesn't have any advantage in killing all the hosts, because if he kills the hosts he will disappear. So from the virus point of view it is better to have a host or two in which it can survive.

Question: Is poultry that is imported into Afghanistan safe to eat? Because some importers say that as a result of announcements made by the Ministry of Public Health, they have lost some profits because consumers are inclined not to purchase such poultry?

Giancarlo Ferrari: One way the virus can be introduced into a country is by migratory birds, and this is very unpredictable. The other is through trade – if I import from infected countries. As far as I know the veterinary department in Afghanistan has taken action by forbidding the introduction of birds, or eggs or poultry from recognized infected countries. If the importation is made from the USA or Brazil, I think it is safe because there is no evidence at the moment those countries have influenza.

Question: As you said it is impossible for the virus to be transmitted from one human to another. What if about if there is the transmission of blood from one person to another? Will that also transmit the disease from one person to another?

Giancarlo Ferrari: So far we do not have any evidence of this type of transmission. When humans get infected with H5N1, most of them get sick. The presence may be in the blood for a very short time. What I think is that you could take the blood from one person that is sick and it has this virus in the blood stream. You transfer this blood to another person. This might or might not occur. There is no specific answer. But it seems to me very unlikely that a person could carry the Avian Influenza virus for longer periods in the blood stream. I would say this possibility is very remote. I wouldn't consider this as one of the main risks for human-to-human transmission.

Question: What measures have been taken in Afghanistan to prevent the outbreak of the disease in the country and to identify cases of contamination?

Giancarlo Ferrari: There has been an initiative of the veterinary department recently. Investigations have been made around wetland areas, the one's considered at high risk and this investigation in the poultry population showed no evidence of clinical disease in those areas. So this will confirm that at the moment in Afghanistan there is no evidence of the H5N1. If it were present they would have noticed huge cases of disease and mortality. In poultry this virus causes a huge rate of mortality – 90% of the animal would die. This is something that cannot go unnoticed.

Question: What is your message to the people of Afghanistan in order for them to be prepared to combat the disease?

Giancarlo Ferrari: For the time being there is no reason to panic.

Question: One of the health officials in Kabul said if a temperature reaches 75 degrees Celsius the virus can be destroyed. Is this true?

Giancarlo Ferrari: Indeed in a few seconds the virus will be destroyed at that temperature.


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