International News

UN Can Reopen Afghan Bakery
by Amir Zia, Associated Press Writer
Posted: Monday, August 28, 2000 11:45 pm CST

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers reversed themselves Thursday and said the United Nations could reopen bakeries that employ widows and feed the poor in the fundamentalist Muslim country.

The decision came a day after the Taliban shut 25 bakeries and told the 360 women who worked there to go home.

``These women are not the United Nations' regular employees,'' the Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, said Thursday. ``We have no objection if they work at bakeries.''

Muttawakil, who was in Kabul, gave no explanation for the change of policy.

Khaled Mansour, a spokesman for the World Food Program in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, said he welcomed the Taliban's decision Thursday.

``From Friday, bakeries for widows will reopen and all women employed there be back at work,'' Mansour told The Associated Press.

The Taliban, who rule roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan, espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law and have imposed strict controls on women since capturing the capital, Kabul, in 1996.

The bakeries, started by the World Food Program, allowed widows to earn salaries making bread that was sold at a subsidized price to other widows in the war-battered country.

The United Nations estimates that there are 28,000 widows in Kabul. They are among the poorest in a city of 750,000 people, most of whom rely on international aid to survive.

When they took power, the Taliban ordered all girls' schools closed and all women out of the work force. They later made concessions in the areas of education and health. Women began to return to work for foreign aid organizations, wearing the all-encompassing burqa that covers them from head to foot.

In early July, the Taliban issued an order barring Afghan women from working for international organizations, except for the health sector.

The United Nations had hoped the bakeries also would be exempt. The United Nations runs 157 bakeries providing food to about 300,000 people.

While many of the Taliban's edicts have been directed against women, the leaders also have outlawed most forms of entertainment and required men to wear beards and attend the mosque for prayers.

On Thursday, in Geneva, the representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan said Taliban rulers have created the world's worst human rights situation.

Sehar Saba, in Geneva to address the U.N. Subcommission on Human Rights, said the United Nations should send peacekeepers into Afghanistan and impose sanctions on countries that support the Taliban.

``The tragedy is that our people are dying. They can't find a piece of bread,'' she said.

Many of the widows in Afghanistan lost their husbands during the rule of President Burhanuddin Rabbani when rival Islamic factions waged a war that ruined much of Kabul and killed about 50,000 people, most of them civilians.

Since the Taliban toppled Rabbani's government, there have been growing numbers of women begging on the roads and children scavenging through the ruins.

Only three countries, including Pakistan, recognize the Taliban government.

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