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Hungry Afghans Reach U.N. Camps

By Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, Friday 22 December 2000, 5:30 AM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Thousands of hungry Afghans, driven from their homes by the region's worst drought in 30 years, are arriving at U.N. food camps in western Afghanistan, the United Nations (news - web sites) said Friday.

Over six days, 4,600 people arrived at one of six U.N. food camps in the western province of Herat, according to a U.N. statement issued in neighboring Pakistan. The five other camps are already full and their conditions are miserable because of poor response to a request for aid from the international community, the statement said.

Thousands of other refugees are likely to pour in as Afghanistan's bitter winter progresses.

The drought currently affecting Afghanistan has put at risk the lives of about 300,000 in the western region, the U.N. statement said.

The warning comes just three days after the U.N. Security Council voted to impose sweeping new sanctions on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. The sanctions are intended to press for the extradition of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and the closure of alleged terrorist camps in the country.

Fearing a violent backlash, the United Nations evacuated all international workers. But while Afghans have expressed anger at the new sanctions, there has been no violence.

It's not clear when the U.N. workers will be returning to Afghanistan. Erick de Mul, chief coordinator for humanitarian aid, said earlier he hoped they could return within days.

The U.N. resolution calls for an arms embargo against the Taliban, bans international travel by Taliban officials, closes Taliban offices outside the country and further restricts international flights.

While the sanctions were meant to target only the Taliban rulers and not the impoverished people of Afghanistan, both U.N. and non-U.N. humanitarian workers say the measures will isolate Afghanistan further - and that they couldn't have come at a worse time.

The World Food Program previously warned that as many as 1 million Afghans face the possibility of starvation this winter because of the drought, which has destroyed three-quarters of the country's crops and about half the livestock.

In the beleaguered capital, Kabul, ordinary Afghans say the threat of sanctions has further weakened the currency, causing the price of basic foods to rise. Kabul's 1 million residents are largely dependent on international aid to survive.

A Taliban ban on poppy production, the country's only cash crop, also has badly hurt ordinary farmers. Many of the Afghans trying to get to Pakistan say they have been forced off their farms because the Taliban won't let them grow poppies, from which opium is produced and heroin manufactured.