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UNHCR fully resumes operations in Kabul after staff freed by Taliban

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UNHCR fully resumes operations in Kabul after staff freed by Taliban

11 December 1996

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced Wednesday it was preparing to fully resume its operations in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after the last of four local staff recently arrested by the Taliban there was released without charge.

The release marks the end of a crisis that had brought most of UNHCR's programmes in Kabul grinding to a halt. On 21 November, the agency put most of its programmes in the city on hold because the loss of half its staff meant it was unable to function. In addition to the four arrested male staff, UNHCR's seven female Afghan staff have not been allowed to work since the city fell to the Taliban in September.

On Tuesday, a UNHCR driver who had been abducted by a group of armed Taliban on October 26th was released from jail. It seems that this arrest, unlike the others, may have been a private initiative by one particular commander who wished to use him as a bargaining chip in a prisoner exchange.

The other three UNHCR local staff, who were seized by armed Taliban as they left the UNHCR Kabul office on 12 November, were released ten days earlier, also without being charged.

"We're hoping that this marks a new beginning," said Sri Wijeratne, acting chief of UNHCR's Afghanistan operation.. "We have now received firm assurances from the Taliban authorities that they will ensure the security of our staff in future. It is important that we all cooperate to alleviate the miserable conditions under which so many of Kabul's inhabitants are living."

At a recent meeting with UN officials in Kandahar, senior Taliban authorities promised to do their utmost to solve the issue of the arrested staff as well as ensure the future security of UN employees working in Taliban-controlled areas. Two of the three staff who were still in custody at that time were released in Kabul three days later.

UNHCR has also received encouraging indications that some of its female staff may shortly be authorised to begin vitally needed work in the field. Many of the agency's programmes are aimed at widows and families headed by women, who cannot be properly served without the help of women staff.

The latest round of fighting in Afghanistan, which followed the Taliban's capture of Kabul has prompted a new wave of displacement mostly from the Kabul area and the north western province of Badghis. At least 80,000 people have been displaced since late September. Of these, 30,000 have gone to Pakistan.