Ordinary Afghans Curse U.N. Sanctions

In this eastern Afghan province where suspected terrorist mastermind Usama Bin Laden is said to operate several training camps, Afghans maintain it is the poorest who are being hurt by U.N. sanctions that took effect Friday.

"What is the United Nations doing, bringing more punishment and hurt upon our heads?" asked Taj Bibi, squatting outside a rancid-smelling hospital with her 5-year-old daughter. "My pockets are empty, my stomach is empty ... This is right? This is cruel."

Afghanistan has been hit by the worst drought in 30 years, devastating crops, killing off entire herds and sending millions of people in search of food and water. More than 100,000 Afghan refugees have fled into neighboring Pakistan, where security officers beat back hundreds more Friday after they tried to storm the border.

The U.N. sanctions took effect after a 30-day deadline expired Friday for Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to hand over Bin Laden and shut down his training camps.

The sanctions were loudly criticized by Afghans who said they were making their already miserable conditions worse.

"We are waiting for help because of the drought and instead we get sanctions," said Tor Jan, waiting outside the hospital for treatment for her ailing son.

"I came from my village where all our animals are dead, the canals are dried up and there is no water, no where," said Jan, huddled with several other women, hidden under giant black burqas. "The lucky man is the one who can find even a drop of water."

Abdul Qayyum, his grease-stained hands shaking with anger, agreed. "Because of one man, they are destroying our country," he said.

The Taliban insist there are no training camps in Afghanistan and Bin Laden can stay until it is proven he is involved in terrorist activity.

The U.N. sanctions impose an arms embargo on the Taliban, who rule 95 percent of the country, but not on their opposition. They also freeze Bin Laden's assets abroad, further curtail Afghanistan's national Ariana airline, ban international travel of Taliban leaders and reduce their diplomatic missions.

While the sanctions are not intended to hurt Afghan citizens, people in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, said fear and isolation has driven up the price of most commodities, sent the already beleaguered currency nose-diving and caused anger and frustration.

"It is unfair and people are hurt and angry because we don't understand why, for one person, they are causing us such pain," said Noor Aga, who operates a transport company.

The United States says Bin Laden is running a global terrorist network from his camps in Afghanistan. Washington accuses Bin Laden of masterminding the 1998 twin bombings of its embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people.

Bin Laden is also suspected in last year's suicide bombing that killed 17 American sailors aboard the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen.

It is believed that Bin Laden's Al Qaida group operates at least three camps outside Jalalabad, in Darunta and Farmada, south and southeast of the city.

"We know there are a lot of Arabs here. We see them all the time. I have seen 50 in one day," said Qayyum. "They come on bicycles or cars or on foot. They are not poor people like us. Yesterday they came and bought two sheep. That is a lot of money."

Others in Jalalabad, many of whom did not want to be identified, said many Arab nationals are living in the Pachi Ragam district of Nangarhar province, on property purchased by Bin Laden before the Taliban took control of the area in 1996. They say Bin Laden, who is believed to have assets worth millions of dollars, purchased the land from Younis Khalis, a former leader of the Afghan resistance during the U.S.-backed war against the Soviet army in the 1980s.

The latest U.S. report on terrorism worldwide said Afghanistan had become the hub of terrorism attracting dissidents from throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia. Many of these people are veterans of the Afghan anti-communist war and most are vehemently anti-American.

Aga said the Taliban should seek mediation from Islamic countries to settle the issue of Bin Laden. The Taliban say bin Laden is a guest and Afghan tradition does not allow anyone to betray a guest to his enemy.

"He is a guest, but not a guest permanently. There should be a solution, but with mediation by Muslim countries, not just hand him over," said Aga.