UN says Taliban pledge safety for humanitarian workers

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The Taliban on Sunday pledged to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and aid access in Afghanistan in a meeting with the UN humanitarian chief in Kabul, a UN spokesman said.

Martin Griffiths was in the Afghan capital on Sunday for several days of meetings with Taliban leadership amid a looming humanitarian disaster in the country newly under the control of the group.

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“The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers -- both men and women -- will be guaranteed freedom of movement,” a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Griffiths reiterated in the meeting that the humanitarian community was committed to delivering “impartial and independent humanitarian assistance,” the statement added.

He also called on all parties to ensure the rights and safety of women, both those contributing to aid delivery and civilians.

Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule.

The UN says Afghanistan is mired in a humanitarian crisis affecting 18 million people, or half the population.

Even before the Taliban's lightning offensive that ousted the Western-backed government on August 15, Afghanistan was already heavily aid-dependent -- with 40 percent of the country's GDP drawn from foreign funding.

But the future of aid missions in the country under the Taliban has been a source of concern for the UN and aid groups, despite Taliban pledges of a softer brand of rule than during their first stint in power.

Several relief organizations have previously confirmed to AFP they were in talks with the Taliban to continue their operations, or have already received security guarantees for existing programs.

The UN said this week humanitarian flights had resumed to several Afghan provinces.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “the Taliban and all other parties to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met” in a report to the Security Council this weekend.

The report was compiled as the mandate of the UN political mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to expire on September 17.

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