Afghans rush to get last delivery of bread

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Poverty-stricken Afghans flocked to bakeries in the capital, Kabul, yesterday to receive their last delivery of subsidised bread, after the United Nations food organisation and the ruling Taliban failed to resolve their differences over hiring women to conduct a survey on hunger.

"For the moment, the closure of the bakeries is final," said Gerard van Dijk, the World Food Program (WFP) representative for Afghanistan. We have made our last offer. Now the Taliban have to come back to us."

The Taliban accused the UN of being rigid by rejecting their offer to hire women already employed by the Taliban. "To give employment to 31 women, they are depriving nearly 300,000 people of their bread," said Saaduddin Saeed, the Taliban's planning minister.

The closure of most of the WFP bakeries is a serious setback for humanitarian relief efforts in the war-torn country, which is also suffering a severe drought. At least 282,000 people who received subsidised bread will be deprived of a crucial food supply.

Christiane Berthiaume, a WFP spokeswoman, told reporters that the bakeries' closure had been postponed for several days because the Taliban had asked to continue negotiations. She said the bakeries would be unable to make bread this weekend because they lack flour. But she added: "If the negotiations succeed, we will furnish flour to the bakeries again".

Mr van Dijk, who will stay in Kabul until Tuesday to continue negotiations, said: "Most of the Afghans are poor and our task is to choose the most poor among them, this is our responsibility."