Global Policy Forum

Tough Sanctions Imposed


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
December 20, 2000

Led by the United States and Russia, the Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on the Taliban government of Afghanistan today, leaving the United Nations profoundly split over the human and political damage the measures could inflict on one of the world's poorest nations. The vote in the 15-member Council was 13 for the embargo, with China and Malaysia abstaining.

At a year-end news conference, Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed his barely concealed displeasure at the move, which was also opposed by his special envoy trying to start peace negotiations between the Taliban and the remnants of an opposition army fighting in a corner of the country. United Nations relief officials working in Afghanistan have been unusually public in their criticism. Private agencies also lobbied the Council against taking this step. "It is not going to facilitate our peace efforts, nor is it going to facilitate our humanitarian work," Mr. Annan said of the Security Council action. "I think we had given adequate indications of that to the Council. But the decision belongs to the Council and of course, once they take the decision, we have to adapt and take the necessary measures that are required."

Today, the United Nations removed all its remaining relief workers from the country, fearing a backlash from the Taliban, who will be almost completely isolated diplomatically when the resolution takes effect in 30 days, a grace period during which the Taliban could avoid sanctions by meeting the Council's demands. Air links will be cut and an arms and military training embargo will be imposed only on the Taliban, not their armed opposition, which is supplied by Russia, Iran and India. All assets belonging to Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be living in Afghanistan, will be ordered frozen around the world.

The United States has been demanding Mr. bin Laden's expulsion from Afghanistan to stand trial for masterminding explosions at American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The new sanctions imposed today are linked to the refusal of the Taliban to meet that demand, made in a first round of sanctions a year ago. For Russia, the Taliban are assumed to be behind an Islamic rebellion in Chechnya.

Russian and American pressure on Security Council members and some officials in the United Nations secretariat has been intense, diplomats said. Two weeks ago, as the sanctions resolution was circulating, the Russian representative complained to Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette that the coordinator of relief work in Afghanistan, Erick de Mul of the Netherlands, was undermining the anti-Taliban campaign by drawing attention to what he believed would be the adverse effects of the tightened embargo on ordinary Afghans, already among the poorest people in the world.

United Nations officials have warned that as many as a million Afghans could face starvation in coming months because of a drought and continued civil war.

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, speaking for the United States today, said that the Security Council was taking "a strong stand against terrorism." She described Mr. bin Laden as "the world's most wanted terrorist."

"The Taliban cannot continue to flout the will of the international community and support and shelter terrorists without repercussions," she said in the Council following the vote. "As long as the Taliban continues to harbor terrorists, in particular Osama bin Laden, and to promote terrorism, it remains a threat to international peace and security.

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