U.N. expatriate workers returning to Afghanistan

The first batch of United Nations international workers returned to Kabul Sunday, a few days after pulling out following the imposition of fresh U.N. sanctions on the war-torn country.

The three foreign staff flying into Kabul on board a routine U.N. flight from neighboring Pakistan said they were convinced there were no security threats facing them..

“I feel happy to be back and I am here to continue my normal job,” said David Pakas, a U.N. security official who accompanied two colleagues, one from U.N. agency Habitat and one from a U.N. de-mining operations.

U.N. sources also said three more expatriates were due to leave for other Afghan cities of Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The U.N., fearing violent reprisals, withdrew around 60 foreign staff ahead of Tuesday’s announcement of additional sanctions on the Taliban rulers for their alleged support to international terrorism.

The Taliban authorities have urged the U.N. Security Council not to go ahead with its strengthened sanctions against the ruling militia.

Relief workers, including those with foreign non-governmental organizations, have complained the sanctions could have dire humanitarian consequences if their vital aid operations are interrupted.

In a resolution proposed by the United States and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday voted to broaden sanctions against the Taliban regime, one year after imposing financial and aviation restrictions.

The new sanctions include an arms embargo on the Taliban but not the opposition headed by commander Ahmad Shah Masood, closure of their offices abroad and a ban on Taliban officials travelling abroad.

Angry mobs ransacked U.N. offices after international sanctions in November 1999 over the same issue.

However Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar last week urged Afghans to “refrain from holding demonstrations” and promised necessary measures to guarantee the safety of U.N. staff and operations in the country, currently suffering from its worst drought in 30 years.

The U.N. and other foreign aid workers supply crucial aid to hundreds of thousands of Afghans in a country devastated by 20 years of civil war.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the new resolution, saying it would “not facilitate peace efforts, or humanitarian work.”

The sanctions will come into force next month if the Taliban do not hand over alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Russia accuses the Taliban of training rebels to fight in Chechnya while Washington wants the Taliban hand over the millionaire Saudi dissident, indicted in the United States for his alleged role in U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998.

Taliban authorities have rejected the demands as “unacceptable and irrational.”

Radio Shariat said Sunday tribal chiefs in eastern Nangarhar and northern Kunduz provinces had described the sanctions as “oppressive”.

Their gatherings on Saturday backed the Taliban’s policy of safeguarding bin Laden as a “welcomed guest and holy warrior,” it added.

The religious militia, which pushed Masood from Kabul in 1996, secured some significant gains last summer against their opponents in the northeast.

The official Shariat Weekly in an editorial accused the U.S., Russia, India and other countries of “hatching numerous plans to weaken” the Taliban regime.

“Rancorous enemies endeavor round the clock to divert our mujahid (holy warriors) and valorous nation from the path of their sacred religion, independence and national traditions,” the paper said.

The opposition could receive more aid from the U.S. if they suffered further setbacks at the hands of Taliban, it warned.