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Afghan relief efforts begin to improve

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``We've never had so many women and children as in the past year, '' Franoise Ruffinen, chief delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, giving a tour of its crowded war casualty hospital in Peshawar. ``Last night, seven women and 12 children were brought in.'' For a reporter covering the Afghan conflict, visits to this Northwest Frontier hospital provide a tragic but necessary insight into gauging the brutality and intensity of the war against the Soviets. Victims include guerrilla fighters as well as civilians, carried in for treatment by camel, horse, vehicle, and on foot from the border regions of Afghanistan and beyond.

``We were completely overrun during the summer. . . . We had to set up a secondary hospital tent just to cope,'' added Ms. Ruffinen.

This reporter has witnessed such scenes during the past six years both inside and outside Afghanistan. Still, the quiet suffering is no easier to behold: the nine-year-old girl with 70 percent of her body burned during a Soviet aerial bombardment; a mother, little boys, old men, whose limbs were blown away by mines or bombs.

For the 6 to 8 million Afghans living in areas not controlled by the Soviet occupation forces, the Red Cross clinics, although based in Pakistan, represent the only sophisticated form of treatment for war injured.

Nevertheless, cross-border relief to the interior ranging from food supplies to basic health care and education is beginning to improve. For one thing, Afghan resistance organizations, now aware that they are facing a long war, are making more concerted efforts to coordinate assistance that will enable their people to survive in the years ahead.

At the international level various voluntary agencies have been furnishing limited humanitarian assistance inside the country, mainly medical and food relief, for a number of years. Yet it is only in the past 18 months that the world, notably the United States, seems to have awakened to the need for more concerted action to counter Moscow's war of attrition against civilians.

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