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Afghanistan: getting through

05-06-1996 News Release 96/22

In late May, the ICRC was able to bring a relief convoy, the first since April 1994, down from the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif to the war-torn capital city of Kabul. This involved driving five lorries loaded with 75 tonnes of vegetable oil (an essential cooking ingredient in Afghanistan as in most of Southern Asia) across the Hindu Kush mountains; the route included the notorious Salang Pass tunnel which, at close to three thousand metres above sea level, is one of the highest in the world. Apart from the fact that until then the Salang road had been closed by a particularly active front line, a 2.4 km stretch of the road was known to be mined. In a gesture of humanitarian concern both the Kabul authorities and the Jumbesh, the political militia based in the northern part of the country, agreed to let this section of the front be cleared of mines.

The mine-removal operation was carried out by Afghan specialists recruited and trained by the British-based Halo Trust organization. As an additional gesture of goodwill, both parties allowed 60 civilians to cross the front line in the wake of the convoy as it returned north laden with orthopaedic equipment to manufacture prostheses for landmine victims there.

Apart from seeing an additional overland lifeline opened up for the one million inhabitants of Kabul, the ICRC staff accompanying the convoy were surprised and encouraged by the spontaneous reaction from local people along the route. " People came up waving flags and cheering us on " , said Jean-Paul Jacquod, head of sub-delegation in Mazar-i-Sharif. " We really had the impression that more than a convoy had got through that time... we feel we saw the emergence of a renewed feel ing of hope. "