U.N. Council tightens sanctions on Afghanistan's ruling militia

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 19 -- The U.N. Security Council today slapped an arms embargo on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and tightened financial, diplomatic and travel sanctions on the militia's leaders for harboring alleged terrorists, particularly the exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, was approved by a vote of 13-0, with China and Malaysia abstaining. Humanitarian agencies warned that the sanctions would worsen conditions for the country's poor and could provoke reprisals against U.N. staffers and international relief workers. But the United States and Russia, in a rare act of cooperation at the United Nations, pushed for the tough measures to squeeze the Taliban to surrender bin Laden, expel other alleged terrorists and shut down training camps for Islamic extremists. The United States has offered a $5 million reward for bin Laden's capture and has placed him at the top of the FBI's most-wanted list. He has been indicted in federal court for planning the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, and he is suspected of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October. Russia, meanwhile, accuses bin Laden and other Arab militants of supporting Islamic rebels in the secessionist region of Chechnya. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan signaled his opposition to the Security Council's vote, saying it would complicate the U.N.'s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and to advance peace talks between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, a rebel group that controls a small corner of Afghanistan. Anticipating reprisals against international aid workers, the U.N. this week withdrew the last of its foreign employees from Afghanistan, leaving a network of local aid workers to feed more than a million people. U.S. officials insisted that the sanctions were crafted to avoid hardship on ordinary Afghans. The rules allow continued imports of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. "These are targeted sanctions aimed at the Taliban leadership for the sole purpose of convincing them that it's less costly to turn over an individual who continues to be a threat to the international community," said Nancy Soderberg, the U.S. ambassador for political affairs at the United Nations. Although the United States already has a unilateral embargo on weapons sales to Afghanistan, the Security Council resolution bars all countries from supplying arms or military aid to the Taliban. Fouad Hikmat, a relief coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan, said his organization's efforts already have been strained by the worst drought in decades and more than 20 years of civil war. Hikmat said dozens of families arrive each day at two overflowing camps on the outskirts of Herat, where more than 50,000 homeless Afghans face malnutrition and a recent outbreak of cholera. "We are expanding our activities rather than reducing them," he said in a telephone interview from Peshawar, Pakistan. The Taliban's chief U.S.-based representative, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, said the Taliban would no longer participate in U.N.-brokered peace talks with the Northern Alliance. "We will no longer consider the United Nations as an impartial organization on the issue of Afghanistan," he said. Malaysia's U.N. ambassador Agam Hasmy also said the one-sided arms embargo threatens the "neutrality of the council" because it will benefit the Taliban's chief rival, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a former Afghan defense minister who heads the Northern Alliance. His rebel army will be permitted to receive weapons from its Russian and Iranian backers. The council called on foreign backers of the Taliban -- an apparent reference to Pakistan -- to withdraw any "officials, agents, advisers and military personnel" engaged in supporting the Taliban's war effort. In addition, the council called for a freeze on the assets of bin Laden and members of his alleged terrorist network; barred international aircraft from landing in Afghanistan without the council's approval; urged countries to reduce the Taliban's diplomatic representation abroad; and placed restrictions on travel by senior Taliban officials. To stem the production of heroin, it also banned the sale to Afghanistan of acetic anhydride, a chemical used to make heroin from poppies. copyright: 2000 The Washington Post