25 August 2004 - Warning that the Taliban and other extremist groups are preparing to step up their violent attacks ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections this October, the head of the United Nations mission to the country today told the Security Council that voters and electoral workers will need urgent protection.
Jean Arnault, Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that even the threat of violence could cause large numbers of eligible voters to stay away from the polling sites, especially in the south.
With existing security stretched thin, he called for enhanced international support to cover the 5,000 polling sites across Afghanistan.
Twelve electoral workers have already been killed and at least 30 others wounded, Mr. Arnault said as he briefed Council members at an open debate, blaming the Taliban and groups such as Hezb-e-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which are publicly opposed to the reconstruction process.
He called for action "against those who plan and organize these attacks" and welcomed meetings on security cooperation earlier this week between the presidents of Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
Mr. Arnault also called specifically for UN workers to receive enhanced protection, saying there should be more trained Afghan personnel to protect UN sites and more resources for gathering and analyzing security information.
He hailed the political and ethnic diversity of the candidates standing for president, calling this evidence that "meaningful political competition is seen to be possible" at least at the national level.
Diplomats participating in today's Council's meeting praised the voter registration process, which has led to more than 10.3 million Afghans - of which at least 41 per cent are women - enrolling to vote since last December.
Among these was United States representative Ann Patterson, who called for more money and assistance for UNAMA to help run the elections and ensure that the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees still living in Iran and Pakistan can vote.
Wolfgang Trautwein of Germany - which has the most troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - underscored the progress achieved in registering Afghan women, whose rights were severely curtailed under the Taliban regime. But he voiced concern over security threats, including terrorist groups, factional forces and criminal gangs linked to the large drug economy.
Mr. Arnault said the process of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants is gaining ground, with the total number of militia fighters now halved to about 40,000 or 50,000. But he called for renewed efforts to prevent armed groups from using the border, especially in Afghanistan's south, to cross back and foster unrest.
Pakistan's Ambassador, Munir Akram, said cross-border infiltrations were not the main cause of Afghanistan's fragile security, arguing that they were being used as a scapegoat instead.
Mr. Akram said his country had already suffered many military casualties and taken great political risks in taking on fighters belonging to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other groups. "What more does the UN expect us to do?" he asked.
Calling for urgent and decisive measures against any groups engaged in violence, Russian Ambassador Andrey Denisov said it was a mistake to flirt with the so-called moderate elements of the Taliban.
He also said the narco-economy was a growing problem because many of the eradication programmes unleashed so far have been ineffective.
Afghanistan's representative, Ravan Farhadi, pointed out that security was the most serious issue at stake because economic recovery and reconstruction depended on stability. He also stressed that the national Government must be able to provide services, create jobs and build roads and other infrastructure so that the country can stabilize.
... Payvand News - 8/26/04 ... --