Wed, Dec 10, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Annan seeks bigger force in Afghanistan

SECURITY WOES The UN secretary-general said the peace process faces `grave challenges' and risks failure

AP , UNITED NATIONS

Women voters in Kabul wait to cast their votes on Monday for their representatives in the upcoming constitutional Loya Jirga election.

PHOTO: EPA

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an expanded international force in Afghanistan to reverse the deteriorating security situation which he said is threatening prospects for peace in the country.

"The international community must decide whether to increase its level of involvement in Afghanistan or risk failure," Annan said in a report to the General Assembly on key political and humanitarian developments since July last year.

He also urged the Afghan government to overhaul the key ministries responsible for security -- defense, interior and intelligence -- to end their domination by "factional interests" and help restore the Afghan people's support for the central government.

Annan's report was issued two days before the scheduled start of a loya jirga, or grand council, in Kabul that is designed to debate and ratify a new Afghan constitution.

The meeting is one of the milestones in the peace process laid out in Bonn, Germany, nearly two years ago -- a process Annan says is facing "grave challenges."

"Unchecked criminality, outbreaks of factional fighting and activities surrounding the illegal narcotics trade have all had a negative impact on the Bonn process," Annan said.

Terrorist attacks by suspected members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, supporters of the former Taliban regime and followers of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have targeted government forces, UN workers and international relief workers, posing the greatest security threat, Annan said.

He warned that adopting a constitution and holding elections next year as called for in the Bonn agreementas "can be accomplished only if the present deterioration in security is halted and reversed."

To consolidate peace and security, "it is indispensable that international support be significantly increased and sustained," he said. "Above all, the international community needs to strengthen its commitment to provide security."

In October, the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the 5,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, known as ISAF, to other parts of the country.

But UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, briefing the media on Annan's report, said "the bad news is that so far we haven't had yet from NATO any clear indication of a stronger ISAF."

Annan praised the establishment under ISAF command of a German provincial reconstruction team in the northern city of Kunduz and urged other countries to follow suit.

Guehenno said "the next 12 months are going to be critical" because of the political timetable, culminating with presidential and legislative elections next year.

Guehenno noted that there have been changes made in some senior positions in the Ministry of Defense, but he said the government must "go further" to ensure that the ministry represents "all Afghans."

"The success in disarming of combatants and the creation of a national army will very much depend on that reform," he said.

Annan said he believes a follow-up conference to the Bonn process could provide an opportunity to assess achievements, decide what needs to be improved and set an agenda beyond the elections.

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