- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The new U.N. refugee chief said yesterday he is asking Secretary of State Colin Powell for more U.S. aid for starving Afghans despite the destruction of ancient Buddhist statues last week.
Ruud Lubbers said he told Mr. Powell in an effort to obtain a green light from the U.S. government that the U.N. refugee agency intended to "be more active" in dealing with the extreme Islamic Taleban government in Afghanistan to combat a famine caused by drought.
"I informed him and my impression is he would not block it," said Mr. Lubbers, the former prime minister of the Netherlands who took over as U.N. high commissioner for refugees in January.
"It's very sensitive item here after the destruction of the statues and Osama bin Laden there is a grim atmosphere," he said. He referred to Afghanistan's recent destruction of ancient Buddha statues as well as to its sheltering suspected terrorist bin Laden, wanted by the United States for the bombing of U.S. embassies and other targets.
World opinion has been inflamed against the Taleban, which has ruled Afghanistan since 1995, for its decision this month to destroy all statues some of them dating back to the third century because Islam considers them as idols that must be destroyed.
UNHCR is anxious not to alienate the United States, which is the largest single contributor to its annual $900 million budget.
Mr. Lubbers said that from 1 million to 1.5 million Afghans are at risk of death from famine due to the drought and some were being prevented by Pakistan from crossing the border in search of help.
Pakistan reasons that the Afghan civil war is over now that the Taleban has taken control over about 90 percent of the country. So those seeking entry are no longer viewed as refugees fleeing persecution, with international rights of protection, but as economic migrants.
Close to 100,000 Afghans have made it to the western city of Herat where many children have died in exposed camps lacking adequate shelter, bedding, food or water, reports said.
Mr. Lubbers said he was concerned lest the U.S. government resort to the "old model which says 'that is the enemy and we should not give them assistance.' "
However he said assessments have not yet determined how much aid is required to avert massive deaths in Afghanistan and to start a world appeal for those funds.
He also warned against turning Yugoslav and Serbian forces loose in the border zones adjacent to Kosovo, where massive ethnic expulsions of Albanians in 1999 were only reversed by a NATO bombing campaign.
And he said he refused to send refugee-aid workers back to camps in West Timor where three U.N. workers were killed by a mob of militants blaming the world community for East Timor's separation from Indonesia.
Mr. Lubbers said he expected little change in traditionally bipartisan U.S. backing for humanitarian aid through the UNHCR, which cares for 22 million refugees and millions of internally displaced persons.
"Mr. Powell did not signal any change in U.S. policy," he said at a meeting with reporters yesterday.
"I count on the generosity of the Republicans," he said, noting that he seeks each developed nation to contribute one dollar for each of its citizens.
The U.S. contribution of $240 million last year was about 80 cents per person. Scandinavian nations and Holland gave much more per capita but most European states gave much less than America.


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