The United Nations has suspended its repatriation program for Afghan refugees in Iran ahead of tough new sanctions likely to be put in place against the Taliban regime, press reports said Tuesday.
The Ettelaat paper, citing officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad, said the program was put on hold this week ahead of a UN Security Council decision on the sanctions.
Russia and the United States earlier this month jointly tabled the new measures with the Security Council, which was expected to take a decision on stepping up sanctions in New York later Tuesday.
The two countries blame the ruling Islamic militia, which ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani in 1996, for sheltering indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden and allowing terrorists to train on their territory.
The sanctions would step up the pressure on the Taliban, who were already slapped with aviation and financial sanctions in November 1999.
UN officials said earlier in the day that they had withdrawn all foreign staff from Afghanistan amid concern over potentially violent protests against the proposed measures.
Some 175,000 Afghans have been returned home from Iran since the repatriation scheme was launched in April.
Around 1.4 million Afghans remain in Iran, half of whom are in the Islamic republic illegally, according to official government statistics -- TEHRAN (AFP)
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