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Food convoy breaks blockade

KABUL'S beleaguered population, who have been under bombardment since the beginning of the year and subject to a food blockade for more than five weeks, received two pieces of good news yesterday.

Forces loyal to Afghanistan's President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, announced that they had recaptured the northern city of Kunduz, which may reduce the danger of a fresh offensive in the capital, while the Red Cross brought in its first food convoy since January. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, nominally the Afghan Prime Minister, has allowed only three truckloads of food to reach the government side since the beginning of February, in an effort to force Mr Rabbani to resign.

After protracted negotiations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) secured agreement to bring in a six-truck convoy, carrying 100 tonnes of food. It will be stored in an area of the city controlled by Hizbe Wahadat, a Shia Muslim faction which is currently neutral, but the ICRC has insisted that it must retain control of distribution. When a United Nations convoy came in last weekend, Mr Hekmatyar retained half of its supplies for his side, although needs are far greater in the government- controlled area.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, an ICRC delegate, said the arrival of yesterday's convoy was 'only a first step'. The organisation estimates that up to 700,000 people in Kabul are too poor to buy the food available in the markets, but it only has enough supplies for the 50,000 camping in mosques and other public buildings.

The recapture of Kunduz from General Abdul Rashid Dostam, who switched to the anti-government side in January, could force him to withdraw forces from the capital. There has been no independent confirmation that Kunduz has fallen, but government spokesmen claimed their troops had found evidence of widespread atrocities and looting in the city.

(Photograph omitted)