Internal divisions and the slow pace of development mean Afghanistan needs continued international assistance, a UNHCR official said Monday in Tokyo.

Although the world’s attention has shifted to the reconstruction of Iraq, the international community needs to “refocus on the Afghan crisis,” Filippo Grandi, Afghanistan Chief of Mission for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

“The issue is not Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said, “it’s Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Grandi said relentless interfactional fighting is hampering the return of refugees and threatening the political process in the leadup to a vote on a new constitution by the year’s end, as mapped out at an international conference in Bonn in late 2001.

He said that to ensure security, the U.N. needs money and a “small but visible presence of foreign troops” for patrols.

On Oct. 13, the U.N. Security Council authorized the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to expand the dispatch of troops beyond Kabul. But Grandi said only Germany has so far expressed its willingness to respond.

Appointed to his current post in August 2001, the UNHCR official said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent strikes on Afghanistan “put the forgotten country back on the map” and enabled “the return of the largest number of refugees in centuries.”

He added, however, that there are still 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran and a large number of displaced people within the country.

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