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Nepal: Let food convoys, medicines, through

Nepal: UN appeals to all sides in conflict to let through food convoys, medicines

United Nations humanitarian agencies have appealed to all parties in the conflict in Nepal to allow safe passage for food convoys to hundreds of thousands of people, and the distribution of vitamins and de-worming tablets for 6 million children, as roadblocks, curfews and strikes make reaching remote areas increasingly difficult.

At the same time Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he “is more than ever concerned about the deteriorating situation.” Through a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, he reiterated his call for an inclusive national dialogue of all Nepalese political forces and for King Gyanendra to take “courageous steps” to find a way avoid further bloodshed.

“It is quite clear that the Nepalese people want a swift end to the conflict and instability and the immediate restoration of democracy. The loss of life and denial of legitimate rights should end without delay,” he added, referring to the King’s suspension of parliamentary rule.

“It is critical for the food to reach the camps to avoid any hunger or suffering on the part of the people there,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) acting country director Jean-Pierre de Margerie said today of his agency’s efforts to feed thousands of refugees from nearby Bhutan in the south of the Himalayan kingdom.

“This convoy is travelling for purely humanitarian reasons and we ask all parties to assist in its passage,” he added, noting that previous dispatches of food to camps in Jhapa and Morang districts were disrupted by strikes and blockades as the conflict intensifies between the Government, rebel Maoists and the political parties protesting against the King’s move.

“WFP is neutral – we are here to support communities,” Mr. de Margerie said of the agency’s plans to send convoys from the south-eastern town of Biratnagar in the next few days.

At the same time, WFP provides nutritious food to 300,000 children in schools and mothers in clinics.

Noting that both the new school year and the national distribution of Vitamin A capsules and de-worming tablets are scheduled to start within the next week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged all parties to respect the rights of youngsters in these two areas.

Some 48,000 female community health volunteers will mobilize in each of the wards in all 75 districts for the distribution, one of the largest child-survival exercises in Nepal.

“Whatever the issues between adults, one thing that they have agreed on in the past is that the children of Nepal have the right to live and be protected from disease,” UNICEF Representative Suomi Sakai said. “What the children need now is for the Female Community Health Volunteers to be able to distribute the capsules and tablets.

Half of Nepal’s children are malnourished and many also do not have enough Vitamin A, an essential element in boosting the immune systems. Vitamin A distribution is estimated to save the lives of some 12,000 children each year and to prevent some 2,000 each year from going blind.

Every six months, Vitamin A capsules are distributed to some 3.3 million children aged between six months and five years. A further 3.1 million children aged between one and five years are set to receive de-worming capsules that greatly reduce rates of anaemia.

“Let all adults agree next week on one thing: put children first,” Dr. Sakai said. “Help the children of Nepal get their Vitamin A capsules and de-worming tablets, and help them get to school in peace.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today reiterated the concern already expressed by her representative in Nepal about the excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators as well as the extensive use of arbitrary detention in violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

“I remind the Government of its international obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly, and I remind its security forces of their obligation to use only minimum necessary force even when faced with demonstrators throwing rocks and other projectiles,” she said in a statement.

“Nepal's Police and Armed Police Force have helped the United Nations uphold the rule of law in its peace operations. But I must make clear that my commitment to provide the Department of Peacekeeping Operations with information regarding individuals implicated in human rights violations extends to them as much as it does to the Royal Nepalese Army.”

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