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KABUL: The first international commercial flight under Afghanistan’s new Taliban interim government departed Kabul on Thursday carrying more than 100 foreigners, including some US citizens left behind after last month’s chaotic airlift.
The flight marked an important step in the Taliban’s efforts to create a functioning state after they seized power last month, although there were growing reports of violence against women, foreigners and journalists at the hands of the Islamists.
UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the Security Council that nongovernmental organisations supporting women were being targeted, women’s freedoms had been restricted and the United Nations’ Afghan staff were being harassed and intimidated.
“The UN cannot conduct its work – work that is so essential to the Afghan people – if its personnel are subjected to intimidation, fear for their lives, and cannot move freely,” Lyons told the Security Council.
An internal UN security document described dozens of incidents including veiled threats, the looting of UN offices and physical abuse of staff since Aug. 10, five days before the Taliban swept to power.
Senior US diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council the United States was “outraged at reports that members of the Taliban have engaged in reprisals against UN staff throughout the country. This is simply unacceptable.”
The harassment of UN staff came as the country was in danger of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order” without an infusion of money, Lyons said.
She also said there were rising reports of the Taliban imposing curbs on women similar to those when they ruled from 1996 to 2001, despite a promise by leaders to respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia, or Islamic law.
About 113 people were aboard the flight from Kabul to Doha operated by state-owned Qatar Airways, officials said. The passengers included US, Canadian, Ukrainian, German and British citizens.
Ten US citizens and 11 permanent residents were on the flight, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter, out of “the 39 we invited.”
Qatar and Turkey have helped the Taliban reopen the airport and a source said the passengers were transported in a Qatari convoy after safe passage was agreed with the Taliban. In Doha, they will initially stay in a compound hosting Afghan and other evacuees.
International flights have flown in and out with officials, technicians and aid in recent days, but this was the first such civilian flight since the hectic evacuation of 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans that followed the collapse of the US-backed government.
“Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan,” said Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said from the tarmac. He said there would also be a flight on Friday.