UN chief urges Security Council not to abandon people of Afghanistan

People try to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS, AFP) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Security Council on Monday (Aug 16) to "use all tools at its disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan" and guarantee that basic human rights will be respected.

The Taleban entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday as the Islamist militants took over the country 20 years after they were ousted by a United States-led invasion.

"We are receiving chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country. I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan," he told the 15-member council.

"We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan," he said.

Taleban officials have issued statements aimed at calming the panic.

Under Taleban rule between 1996 and 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes.

"Attacks against civilians or civilian objects must stop. The human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghan citizens, especially women, girls and members of minority groups, must be respected," US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council.

Afghanistan's UN ambassador Ghulam Isaczai told the Security Council he was speaking for millions of people "whose fate hangs in the balance," including women and girls "about to lose their freedom to go to school, to work and to participate in the political, economic, and social life of the country."

Isaczai called on the council and the United Nations not to recognise any administration that achieves power by force or any government that is not inclusive.

He urged them to call for the immediate establishment of an inclusive transitional government.

The UN has about 3,000 national staff and about 300 international staff on the ground in Afghanistan.

On Friday, the UN said some staff had been relocated to Kabul but that none had been evacuated.

"The United Nations presence will adapt to the security situation. But above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need," Guterres said.

Meanwhile, Nato envoys will hold emergency talks on Tuesday on the situation in Afghanistan as Western powers scramble to evacuate personnel from Kabul after the Taleban takeover, an alliance official said.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will then hold a news conference at 1300 GMT on Tuesday (9pm Singapore time) - his first appearance before the media since June - as the alliance reels following the collapse of the Afghan government forces.

Stoltenberg tweeted on Sunday that Nato was "helping keep Kabul airport open to facilitate and coordinate evacuations", but there were scenes of chaos as crowds tried to board departing planes.

The Taleban's seizure of power comes after NATO withdrew its 9,500-strong mission on the back of a decision from US President Joe Biden to pull out his troops.

Armin Laschet, the candidate from Angela Merkel's party to succeed her as German Chancellor, on Monday described the situation as "the biggest debacle that Nato has suffered since its founding" - seven decades ago.

Separately, an Afghan military plane has crashed in Uzbekistan, the Central Asian country's defence ministry said on Monday, while neighbouring Tajikistan said over 100 Afghan soldiers had landed at one of its airports.

"The military plane illegally crossed the border of Uzbekistan. An investigation is under way," ministry spokesman Bakhrom Zulfikarov told AFP, confirming Uzbek media reports of a crash late Sunday in the southern province of Surkhondaryo, which borders Afghanistan.

Russian news agencies on Monday reported that the plane had been shot down by Uzbekistan, citing defence ministry officials.

Zulfikarov said the defence ministry would prepare a statement later. It was not clear if anybody died in the crash, but at least two Afghan soldiers were reported as having survived the incident.

Bekpulat Okboyev, a doctor in the city of Termez, Surkhondaryo's regional capital, told AFP his hospital had taken in two patients who were wearing Afghan military uniforms late on Sunday.

The doctor described one as being "with a parachute" and noted that the man had suffered fractures.

Images and footage on the Telegram messaging app showed a man in military uniform receiving treatment and what appeared to be debris from the plane crash.

Okboyev said his hospital had also accepted three Afghan soldiers a day earlier after a total of 84 troops illegally crossed the border into the country while fleeing the Taleban.

Uzbekistan's foreign ministry said on Sunday that the Afghan soldiers were detained by Uzbek border services but had received humanitarian assistance.

The statement said Uzbekistan was negotiating with the "Afghan side" over their return home.

Uzbekistan's neighbour Tajikistan said Monday it had allowed over 100 Afghan military to land at Bokhtar airport in the south of the country.

"Tajikistan received SOS signals, after which, in accordance with the country's international obligations, it was decided to allow Afghan servicemen to land at the airport," the Tajik foreign ministry's information department told Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA Novosti.

RIA Novosti reported that three planes carrying the soldiers had landed in Bokhtar during the night.

Central Asia has watched with alarm as the government in Kabul collapsed.

Three former Soviet countries - Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - border Afghanistan.

Of the three, only Tajikistan has eschewed talks with Taleban officials, who have assured neighbours of their commitment to regional peace and infrastructure projects.

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