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Afghan Food Delivery to Transit Iran
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran has agreed to allow the delivery of U.S. food aid through its territory to Afghanistan and the construction of a refugee camp on its soil near the border, relief officials said.
The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution. But as Washington has been putting together an anti-terror coalition the past month, delicate communications have been passed between the two countries.
Marius de Gaay Fortman, a coordinator for the World Food Program, said 45,000 tons of American wheat will arrive in Iran in early November to be delivered to the Afghan people through Iran.
A U.S. ship delivering the wheat will not come to Iran, he said, but rather the supplies will be transferred to another ship provided by the agency in international or Pakistani waters.
Fortman told reporters that another 20,000 tons of wheat donated by the United States will arrive in Pakistan early November, and by December there will be a consignment of 100,000 tons of American wheat for Afghanistan through Iran and Pakistan.
Iran accepted U.S. relief for itself - delivered through international agencies - after destructive earthquakes in 1997 and 1990. This was the first time the government has accepted to open the way for U.S aid on route for Afghanistan. On Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said in Washington that Iran has conveyed to the United States through Swiss intermediaries that it would try to rescue any American military personnel it found in distress on its territory.
Tehran has also allowed refugee camps to be set up on its territory just along the border with Afghanistan in case of an influx of people fleeing the fighting, a Red Cross official said. Iran, already home to some 2 million Afghan refugees, has resisted accepting more in the current crisis.
Setting up the camps at the border will allow easy access to refugees and facilitate relief operations, Astrid Heiberg, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a news conference.
Heiberg said concern is growing that a large number of Afghans will head to the Iranian border as fighting escalates inside Afghanistan and winter approaches. She did not elaborate.
Iran's top decision-making body, the Supreme National Security Council, made the decision on the camps Wednesday after the Taliban refused to allow the camps in Afghanistan, Ahmad Ali Norbala, head of the Iran Red Crescent Society, said at the news conference.
International aid workers pulled out of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, leaving local staffers to try to run the operations.
In Vienna, Austria, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said Thursday that so far Afghans have not fled in high numbers into neighboring nations, rather they have been fleeing cities to hide in the countryside
But the commissioner is preparing for the worst case scenario of 1.5 million refugees as the crisis sharpens. So far, bout 50,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Pakistan since Sept. 11.
-- Jackson Brown (Jackson_Brown@deja.com), October 21, 2001