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High Commissioner arrived in Afghanistan

Briefing notes

High Commissioner arrived in Afghanistan

28 February 2003

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers arrived in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif this morning after a 12-hour trip by road from Kabul. During the journey, the High Commissioner passed through the Salang tunnel, which only just recently re-opened following extensive snows that had blocked the road.

Mr. Lubbers this morning opened the first meeting of the Return Commission, which was chaired by Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Enyatullah Nazari. The region's main commander, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mr. Lubbers and the Minister to open today's important first meeting. Mr. Lubbers had tried to fly into Mazar on Thursday following a similar attempt the day before, but due to bad weather his helicopter had to turn back after only 45 minutes because of poor weather.

Afghanistan's Return Commissions, sponsored by the government, are looking at ways to help displaced Afghans return to their communities. There are more than 720,000 internally displaced Afghans, including both families who left their homes due to security incidents as well as people who lost their livelihood as a result of the long drought that seems to be ending in some regions.

Mazar-i-Sharif's Return Commission today brought together the region's main leaders, including Abdul Rashid Dostum from the Jumbush party, Gen. Ustad Atta Mohammad from the Jamiat, and the mainly ethnic Hazara Hezb-e-Wahdat party local head, Saradar Saeedi. Representatives from the Afghan Human Rights Commission and UNAMA also joined Mr. Lubbers and Minister Enyatullah. The participants discussed concrete measures to resolve some of the issues that prevent displaced persons from returning to the north at this time.

Mr. Lubbers is scheduled to visit Pul-i-Khumri and also plans to visit Nahrin District in Balkh Province, where UNHCR and its partners have helped rebuild more than 5,000 homes destroyed during two recent earthquakes. He ends his mission in Afghanistan, his fourth to the region since taking office in 2001, on Sunday, before flying to Pakistan and Iran.