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First UN aid distributed in Kabul

By Nick Easen

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United Nations relief body has begun distributing aid in the Afghan capital for the first time since the return of international staff.

Salvaging their remaining stocks, the U.N. on Wednesday gave out blankets and food to homeless and displaced people following the U.S.-led bombing in Afghanistan.

However supplies were scarce, as many items, including tents and blankets intended for returning refugees, had been looted, says the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

As Kabul receives relief, others desperately in need of assistance in areas where fighting is still taking place cannot be reached due to security concerns voiced by the agencies.

In-depth Afghanistan: The human crisis 
• In Pakistan 
• In Iran 
• Facing hardship 
• At the borders 
• Donating 

Only a halt to the fighting would allow aid to flow more freely into needy provinces, including the south and northern areas around the besieged city of Konduz.

Now the main task of aid agencies is to ensure that people displaced by fighting can return to their homes, "where they can be better cared for than in a tent city", Filippo Grandi spokesman for the UNHCR told Reuters

Some of the U.N.'s supplies are scant on the ground, and the UNHCR says its office in Jalalabad was looted some time ago.

Mazar-e Sharif, Kandahar, and smaller satellite offices in Spin Boldak and Helmand provinces were also looted, although its properties in Herat and Kabul remain undamaged.

On the Iranian border

In the west a major aid shipment left Iran for the border after being delayed for several days due to safety concerns concerning the road to Herat.

There have been reports of banditry on this road, which was captured by opposition Northern Alliance from the Taliban militia last week.

The 125-tonne, 15-truck convoy will carry the first joint aid shipment by the UNHCR and Iran's Red Crescent relief agency to an estimated 200,000 displaced Afghans in Heart who require supplies before winter.

The United Nations is also gearing up for a possible large-scale, organized return of Afghan refugees in Iran. Security allowing the movement will begin in early spring.

At a glance: Afghanistan

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According to the UNHCR, 12,000 have already gone back spontaneously since November 1 from various towns throughout Iran.

Many of the returnees, says the U.N., are young men who fled to Iran during Taliban rule to escape forced conscription and are mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.

The returning Afghans travel via Dogharoun, Iran's main border crossing in the northeast, where they are registered before leaving the country.

Dalai Lama

As relief efforts step up, the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gave a personal contribution of $50,000 towards the UNHCR's work in Afghanistan.

In a note given to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, the Dalai Lama expressed "great admiration" for UNHCR's humanitarian work to help hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

In response Lubbers said: "his compassion for the world's dispossessed is well-known. This contribution will help to ease their (Afghan's) suffering."


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