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Taliban Shuts U.N. Political Offices

May 21, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have closed U.N. offices in four cities to protest global sanctions, U.N. officials said Monday.

The offices of the U.N. Special Mission to Afghanistan in Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad have been temporarily closed, said Freda Mackay, a U.N. official in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

The Taliban had said the U.N. offices must close by May 20 unless it was allowed to reopen political offices in New York and Pakistan, which were closed by the U.N. sanctions.

The U.N. offices in Afghanistan were a key element in its effort to broker a peace accord in the war-ravaged nation. The Taliban have refused to recognize the world body as an arbiter and peace efforts have so far failed.

Mackay said all of the Special Mission’s international staff in the four Afghan cities have left the country in recent days.

The U.N. mission’s offices in the Afghan capital of Kabul and in the opposition-controlled northern city of Faizabad have been allowed to remain open. U.N. officials say the closure of the other offices will not affect its humanitarian work.

The U.N.’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, will continue peacekeeping efforts.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on the Taliban, who rule 95 percent of Afghanistan, in January to pressure them to stop giving shelter to Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, whom Washington accuses of running a global terrorist network.

Washington wants bin Laden to stand trial in the United States or a third country for his alleged involvement in the bombing of two of its embassies in East Africa in 1998. The sanctions include closure of most of the Taliban’s political offices abroad, travel restrictions on Taliban officials and a ban on weapons supplies to them.

On Monday, the United Nations began distributing 600 tons of wheat, flour and oil to refugees in Jalozai camp in northwestern Pakistan, said Khaled Mansour, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program.

About 70,000 refugees who fled Afghanistan to escape drought and civil war are expected to benefit from the food aid, Mansour said. Distribution will last three or four days and should be enough to feed Jalozai’s refugees for a month.

According to the United Nations, about 30 of Jalozai’s refugees, mostly children, have died this month from heatstroke and dehydration as temperatures have soared above 113 Fahrenheit.

Both sides in the fighting agreed to hold their fire to allow the vaccination of about 5.3 million children under the age of 6. The cease-fire began on Saturday and was to end Monday.

Update hourly