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French-based relief groups call for more aid to Afghan refugees

With the melting of the winter snows and an expected upsurge in fighting between resistance groups and Soviet-backed government forces, French-based humanitarian organizations are preparing to send in a new series of aid missions to Afghanistan.

At a special conference convened here in Paris April 3 to discuss cooperation in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, nine medical and relief groups urgently appealed for more funds and stressed the need to provide continued aid to Afghan tribesmen deprived of living essentials by the war -- particularly in the country's more isolated regions.

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"The Kabul regime has so far refused to allow any official organizations such as the International Red Cross to operate inside Afghanistan," said Dr. Laurence Laumonier, a representative of Aide Medicale Internationale, who has spent several months providing medical care to families inside Nuristan in the northeast. "It is therefore up to the private organizations to clandestinely bring direct help to the Afghans even at great risks," she said.

Over the past 12 months, French groups --so far the only ones to do so -- have been operating medical missions and relief caravans to Afghanistan. Aide Internationale Contre la Faim (AICF), for example, which also helps refugees in Pakistan, has distributed more than $100,000 worth of food, clothing, medication , or cash directly to needy Afghan tribesmen. Afrane, another organization, has similarly donated roughly $20,000 worth of relief.

According to recently returned sources, the Soviets are still continuing their policy of blockading certain regions inside Afghanistan in an attempt to force resistance groups to their knees through starvation. Furthermore, some parts such as the Hazarajat have virtually no medical care whatsoever. "There is as far as we know only one doctor caring for nearly 2 million people in the central highlands," said one source.

Claude Malhuret of Medecins Sans Frontieres, whose organization operates a surgical hospital at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, said that most of their medical care was concentrated on family health. "We tend to operate mainly in the noncombat zones so we get to see few battle injuries," he said. Hampered by poor conditions and financial restraints but no lack of volunteer doctors and nurses, the medical groups admit that their effectiveness is extremely limited.

"Ideally," said Mr. Malhuret, "we would like to establish a regular health-care program, but this sort of thing is obviously much easier in the refugee camps of Pakistan than in the mountains of Afghanistan, where there is always the danger of being attacked. Most important of all, however, is to show the Afghans that they have not been forgotten."

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