Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Afghan bombing may harm elections

WARLORDS AT WORK The explosion came on the day of a parade launching a drive to disarm private militias in order to decrease their effect on coming elections

REUTERS , HERAT, AFGHANISTAN

An explosion in the western Afghan city of Herat yesterday killed five people and wounded 34, raising fresh concerns about security for elections due in October, officials said.

The UN said the blast was the latest in a string of violent incidents that underscored the need for more international troops to protect the October 9 presidential vote and parliamentary elections next April.

The explosion came shortly before the launch of a drive to disarm militia forces in the ancient city near the border with Iran.

The device exploded outside a military post near a busy morning market, said Ghulam Mohammad Masoan, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

"The death toll has reached five; a child is among them. And we have 34 wounded people," said Nasir Habib, a doctor at Herat's main hospital.

The death toll could rise because some of the wounded were in critical condition, he said. All the victims were civilians.

Herat's police chief, Zia Uddin Mahmodi, said the blast was thought to have been caused by a bomb hidden in a bucket.

Members of the ousted Taliban militia could have been responsible, he said.

The Taliban, ousted by US-led forces in late 2001, have vowed to disrupt the October election and have launched a string of attacks on government and foreign troops and election workers in recent months, but most of the violence has been in the south and east of the country.

Masoan said he believed it was the work of "those people who do not want a stable Herat." He was apparently referring to rivals of the province's powerful governor, Ismail Khan.

Herat has long been seen as one of the more stable parts of the country, but in March fighting erupted between forces loyal to a government military commander and members of Khan's militia.

Khan's son, Aviation Minster Mirwais Sadiq, was killed in the clash. President Hamid Karzai's central government sent troops to intervene but commanders loyal to Khan, who forced those of the rival commander out of the city, said they were not needed.

A UN spokesman in Kabul said a Disarmament, Demobilization and Integration drive was due to be launched in Herat yesterday with a parade and a ceremony at a site about 5km from the explosion site.

One of Khan's armored militia brigades was due to be demobil-ized in the campaign.

The disarming of tens of thousands of irregular fighters under the command of regional strongmen is seen as a step in Afghanistan's path to political stability.

Some regional commanders, including Khan, have warned that disarming their forces will actually increase instability, especially while a new national army of 12,000 is so small.

Western diplomats and human rights groups have argued that it would be difficult to ensure fair parliamentary elections while powerful factions, some of them closely aligned to local political parties, hold sway over large parts of Afghanistan.

More than 20,000 US-led troops are hunting remnants of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan.

NATO has deployed about 6,500 troops, most on peacekeeping duty in Kabul. It has agreed to send another 1,500 to Kabul and to the more stable north for the polls -- far fewer than the UN and the government had been seeking.

The UN representative for Afghanistan said more troops were needed.

"All the incidents that have been happening recently, including the killing of our three female registration officers, do demonstrate that protection of the election process is not a matter of arriving for polling day," UN special representative Jean Arnault told reporters.

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