Mr. Ban has “followed with concern the recent fighting in Afghanistan, in particular around Kandahar and in Farah provinces, where formed groups of Taliban have attempted to take and hold certain districts,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson. He underlined the crucial role that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan security forces are playing to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become “a host for terrorist and extremist groups.” “The Secretary-General notes that it is an unfortunate reality that such operations continue to be necessary in Afghanistan, but reaffirms that the hope for lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region, and for a world without terrorism, depends on their success,” the statement added. While thanking those countries which have provided assistance, he appealed to all Governments involved in Afghanistan to maintain their existing commitments in order to ensure the success of the joint effort to rebuild Afghanistan, “so that it can offer hope and opportunity to its people, friendship to its neighbours, and an example to the rest of the world.” The situation in Afghanistan has also raised concern among UN Member States, which today strongly condemned the upsurge of violence in the country, including the rising trend of suicide attacks, owing to the increased violent and terrorist activity by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist groups. A resolution adopted by the 192-member General Assembly noted that such violence has led to increased casualties among Afghan civilians, Afghan National Security Forces, ISAF and the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition, as well as members of aid agencies and humanitarian workers. The General Assembly called on the Government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the international community, “to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist groups as well as by criminal violence.” Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has announced that more than 350,000 Afghan refugees, most of them from Pakistan and some 6,000 from Iran, have returned home this year with the agency’s help.Despite the difficulties they face upon their return, “many of the people coming back are hopeful about the future,” UNHCR representative Salvatore Lombardo said today at a press briefing in Kabul. “Access to employment remains the greatest preoccupation of those returning to Afghanistan,” he stated, adding that land, shelter and lack of water are also prominent issues for returnees. Because of Afghanistan’s precarious security situation, difficult socio-economic situation and limited capacity to absorb the returnees, UNHCR has insisted on the importance of respecting the voluntary character of return and to make sure that returns are made in a gradual manner. Since 2002, the agency has assisted more than four million Afghans return home – over 3.2 million from Pakistan and 860,000 from Iran. Some three million registered Afghans remain in exile in the region today, including about two million in Pakistan and 910,000 in Iran. 5 November 2007Concerned about recent fighting in Afghanistan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed to all States assisting the violence-wracked nation to maintain their existing commitments to root out terrorism and rebuild a peaceful society.