(Check against Delivery)

The Fourth Meeting of the Afghanistan Support Group
Keynote Speech by H.E. Mr. Nobutaka Machimura,
State Secretary for Foreign Affairs
December 7, 1998

Distinguished Representatives of the Member Governments, International Organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations, Ladies and Gentlemen ;

It gives me a great pleasure to be here with you this morning at the opening of the Fourth Meeting of the Afghanistan Support Group to welcome you and to share with you some of my thoughts concerning the situation in Afghanistan.

I am particularly pleased to see some of the new participants to this meeting, which is a clear evidence that the level of commitment of the international community to the Afghanistan issues has not subsided but rather kept increasing.

Since we last met in early part of May in London, the situation in Afghanistan has changed dramatically over the summer, with the Taliban movement expanding its territory northward. This, together with other incidents, has driven the staff of the UN organizations and a large number of NGOs from the Afghan territory. In spite of some progress with the Taliban, which was worked out by the painstaking efforts of Ambassador Brahimi in October, the situation virtually remains unchanged today. It is against this backdrop that we are meeting here today to discuss the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen ;

The protracted warring situation in Afghanistan has brought about serious negative effects to the human and social conditions in that country, ranging from terrorism, drug issues, human rights and gender issues, to the existence of millions of land mines, just to mention a few. With the rapidly deteriorating political and social conditions since the summer of this year, basic conditions confronting humanitarian assistance have also been seriously undermined. Today, the activities of the UN staff and many of the NGOs on the Afghan soil have been limited to those by the local personnel alone. The questions are under what sort of conditions can they go back safely to Afghanistan and when can they go back. In the medium to longer term perspective, we cannot avoid dealing squarely with the question of what sort of relationship would be appropriate for the international community to seek to establish with the Taliban. These are some of the key questions that are essential to the restoration of safe and lasting humanitarian activities in Afghanistan.

I see vast humanitarian requirements in Afghanistan that await urgent response by the international community. Those requirements are becoming even more pressing and acute as severe winter sweeps the mountains and valleys in that country. Thus, ASG IV must examine, one, the level and modality of the emergency humanitarian requirements in Afghanistan, two, the conditions for the complete resumption of humanitarian relief activities, and three, to improve efficiency and coordination in the overall management of humanitarian assistance activities by different groups and agencies.

Ladies and gentlemen ;

Let me say a few words concerning Japanese policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan. Central to Japan's Afghan policy is our constant support for the efforts made by the United Nations and we are particularly appreciative of the efforts being carried out by Ambassador Brahimi. In order to demonstrate our intention to support the political process in Afghanistan, the Japanese Government sent a political officer in 1988 to UNGOMAP and until very recently Mr. Takahashi served as a member of UNSMA based in Islamabad to assist the political efforts by Ambassador Brahimi. Let me take this opportunity to renew our commitment, as we did in the past just to show a light at the end of the tunnel, to the convening of an international conference in Japan with the aim of building peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan with appropriate representation of people in that country.

We have learnt from our experience in Cambodia the importance of urging the parties in conflict repeatedly and with patience to get engaged in the process of building peace. In early November, I had the honor of delivering a keynote speech at the Phnom Penh International Forum on Demining and Victim Assistance. I personally had a chance to visit a site in the outskirts of Phnom Penh where actual mine sweeping operation had been underway. I was deeply moved to witness the officials of the Cambodian government and aid workers working closely together in this difficult and often very dangerous task. It was indeed a rare opportunity to be reminded of the true value of peace restored in Cambodia, and of the tremendous efforts being rendered by international community to this goal. War in Afghanistan is another tragedy in Asia. I cannot but hope that one day peace be restored in that country and that international community can fully cooperate for the reconstruction of Afghan society.

Having served as Minister of Education in the previous cabinet, I have keen interest in the issues relating to education and human resource development, culture, women and children. I cannot but hope that one day women and children in Afghanistan be given an opportunity to be educated in peaceful and healthy environment. I cannot but hope that one day great cultural heritages of Bamiyan and other historic monuments be preserved properly for their future generations.

Ladies and gentlemen ;

In parallel with efforts for peace, my government has endeavored, together with the UN agencies and NGOs, to respond to the humanitarian need of people in Afghanistan. Since the civil war broke out in 1979, my government has extended more than 400 million US dollar-worth of assistance to Afghanistan. Since the spring of this year, my government, in collaboration with UN agencies, has started a project known as the Azra and Tizin project in eastern Afghanistan, which is designed to assist the return of once dispersed refugees from the neighboring countries. I should like to take this opportunity to announce that the Japanese Government will extend 1.5 million US dollars of Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects in the coming two years aiming at helping NGO programs for Afghan refugees and displaced persons. The Japanese Government has also decided to provide 2 million US dollars to the Afghan projects to be implemented by the ICRC and UNHCR.

Ladies and gentlemen ;

Lastly, I would like to say a few words concerning the so-called "Common Programming" which was agreed at the ASG III in London this past May. My government strongly supports this new concept of coordinating donor contribution to achieve greater efficiency and maximizing output, with the UN playing a central role and taking into consideration the views and wishes of the donor governments and NGOs more fully. Once established and proved to be effective in Afghanistan, I believe that this Common Programming approach will be applicable to other similar cases in coordinating assistance programs in the developing countries. My government will support this approach and intends to assume a positive role in the actual implementation of this new approach.

Ladies and gentlemen ;

In concluding my remarks, let me express my hope that this meeting will contribute to paving ways for the full resumption of humanitarian assistance activities in Afghanistan, to reach a meaningful and constructive consensus in the establishment of a new approach to coordinating assistance, and, above all, to renewing the common commitment of the international community to work toward peace in that war torn nation.

Thank you very much.


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