UN mission in Afghanistan needs another 12 months, says Ban


New York : UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday asked the Security Council to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Afghanistan by another 12 months so it can assist Kabul in the critical elections in August.

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He said the UN mission will set up a political-electoral unit to work with Afghan political parties, civil society and the candidates to prepare for the general elections Aug 20, including election of a new president.

The UN mission will continue “to act in an impartial manner, leading the efforts of the international community, with the goal of ensuring a fair, transparent and credible process”, Ban said.

He said the scheduled elections are expected to be “tightly contested”, and will take place in a period of intensified fighting.

“There must be no doubt in the mind of any Afghan that elections will be held as scheduled,” Ban said, reflecting the current uncertainty in Kabul about holding the ballot Aug 20 because of insecurity and conflict among political parties.

The UN mission in Kabul is composed of 115 international staff and about 300 local staff.

Ban said in a report to the 15-nation council that 2008 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since a democratic government took over Kabul, with signs that matters are worsening. January, 2009 had 75 percent more violent incidents than in January, 2008.

On the humanitarian side, the report said five million Afghans currently need food assistance because last year’s cereal harvest was the smallest since 2002 due to lack of rainfall. It said about 1.2 million children under the age of five and more than 500,000 pregnant women in 22 Afghan provinces are at risk of severe malnutrition because of the food crisis.