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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Tells Afghan Refugees, U

November 18, 1997

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Tells Afghan Refugees, U.S. Will Not Recognize Taliban Government Due To Its ‘Despicable’ Treatment of Women and ChildrenBy GEORGE GEDDA

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - Against the backdrop of a dusty plain near this remote corner of Pakistan, Madeleine Albright listened intently as a group of luckless young Afghan women talked in somber tones about their fate as refugees.

``We are tired of our lives in exile,″ one woman told the U.S. secretary of state Tuesday. Another spoke of the pain of being virtually destitute despite an advanced education in finance and economics.

Another told how her life had taken a fateful turn the day thieves broke into the family home in Afghanistan. She fled but her sister died when she leaped from a sixth-floor window trying to escape.

As a woman and a two-time refugee herself, once from Nazism and once from communism, Albright could identify with these star-crossed Afghans - but only to a point.

``It’s very hard for me to sit here to compare myself to you; I have been very lucky, as have my friends,″ Albright said after hearing the tales of six women.

The six were among about 15 women, all clad in traditional Islamic head covers, who met with Albright on a cloudless afternoon at the Nasir Bagh refugee village.

While Albright, who fled her native Czechoslovakia as an infant and again at age 11, eventually became secretary of state, it’s difficult to imagine that the refugees stranded here have much to look forward to. After 18 years, the Afghan war persists, surviving diplomatic efforts to end it.

About 80,000 Afghans live at the Nasir Bagh refugee village that Albright visited. There are about 250 similar villages in the area, housing 1.2 million refugees.

``I’ll never forget you, being here with you,″ Albright told the women. ``I will do everything to help you to help your country. You’re country has suffered very much from invasion and now division.″

At its peak in 1990, the refugee population in Afghanistan numbered over 3 million in 350 refugee villages. Many returned to Afghanistan in 1992 following communism’s collapse but another exodus back to Pakistan began again in September 1986 after the Taliban government, led by Islamic militants, took power.

The Taliban remains entrenched, and Albright used the occasion of a morning news conference to assail that government’s ``despicable treatment of women and children.″

Within days of the takeover, the Taliban forced women from their jobs, closed schools for girls and made it mandatory for women to wear the all-enveloping burqa. Women also are not allowed to travel without a male relative.

In the Nasir Bagh village, Albright took a brief tour of an area where children attended classes in tents and adobe huts.

The educational tools were limited to small blackboards and paperback textbooks. There were no chairs or desks; the children sat on the floor. With a motherly smile, Albright accepted a bouquet of flowers from a student.

She got a somewhat different look at the Afghan war’s fallout at a presentation on efforts to deal with the country’s 10 million land mines, which have rendered unsafe 320,000 square miles of otherwise potentially productive land.

Dogs have been found to be an effective means of sniffing out the mines for clearance. About 10 people a day are killed or maimed by land mines in Afghanistan.

Albright flew here by helicopter from Islamabad, then set out for India, the final stop of tour that has taken her to Europe, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.