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UN Chief Says Afghanistan Should Have Access To Funds To Avoid Economic Meltdown

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (file photo)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would play into the hands of terrorist groups.

Guterres told a news conference on September 10 that the international community needed to "find ways to avoid a situation that would be catastrophic for the people and, in my opinion, a source of instability, and an action, gift for terrorist groups still operating there."

He said it was essential that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agree on waivers or mechanisms to get money into Afghanistan. The IMF has blocked the Taliban from accessing some $440 million in new emergency reserves.

The UN chief also said the UN was "permanently engaging with the Taliban and we believe that a dialogue with the Taliban is absolutely essential at the present moment."

He added that all countries should engage with the Taliban and deliver the same message that the Afghan people should live in peace under an inclusive government that respects basic human rights, including for women and girls, and that Afghanistan should not be a sanctuary for terrorism.

His remarks came after UN special envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons warned that freezing Afghan assets to keep them out of Taliban hands would inevitably spark economic problems.

Much of the Afghan central bank's $10 billion in assets parked overseas have been frozen since the Taliban came to power last month. The assets are considered leverage for the international community.

Lyons told the Security Council on September 9 that a chance should be given to the Taliban that allows money to flow into the country to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order.

If funds aren't freed up, a severe economic downturn that could throw millions of people into poverty and could generate a massive wave of refugees, she said.

Afghanistan faced drought, displacement, and a humanitarian crisis even before the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in August as U.S.-led international forces prepared to withdraw.

Also on September 10, the UN refugee agency's chief said it will engage with the Taliban to provide assistance to millions of displaced Afghans.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), said his agency had so far not observed large numbers of Afghans trying to cross into other countries but warned that the situation could change if conditions in the country deteriorate.

"The priority No. 1 for my organization is to step up, scale up our humanitarian work to help those displaced," Grandi said. "Winter is coming. It is very cold in Afghanistan during winter."

The UNHCR chief made the comment in Turkey near the border with Syria at the end of a four-day visit.

Turkey, which already hosts millions of Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Afghan migrants, has expressed concern over the potential of large numbers of Afghans heading its way.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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