Tue, Jan 03, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Afghan parliament flexing its muscles on security barriers


Afghanistan's new parliament, in existence only 11 days, is already showing its teeth, pressing the government to act on one inflammatory issue involving the capital -- the inconvenience caused by security barriers set up by foreign elements, including embassies, contractors and the US military.

President Hamid Karzai and the Ministry of Interior, apparently responding to pressure from the new parliament and longstanding public grumbling, on Friday ordered all organizations, foreign and domestic, to remove barriers obstructing Kabul's streets within a week.

On Sunday, security contractors for the US military held three employees of the al-Jazeera television network as they tried to film security barriers near the US military headquarters here. The US Embassy and US military headquarters have closed streets around their premises.

Afghan problems

After spending 10 days discussing rules of procedure for the parliament, the lawmakers on Sunday formally turned for the first time to pressing problems facing Afghans.

For an hour, representatives spoke with passion of the suffering of the homeless from cold weather, disease and poverty, and of government corruption and the fate of people in US military detention.

But the issue that threatens to cause an international incident is frustration about traffic problems in Kabul and the closing of whole districts when foreign or government dignitaries visit -- such as when US Vice President Dick Cheney attended the recent opening of parliament.

"We have to open the roads that have been closed by foreign princes and war princes," said Ramazan Bashardost, a populist member of the parliament.

After Karzai's decree on Friday, the Ministry of Interior informed various foreign organizations, including the US military, US security contractors like DynCorp, private aid organizations and several embassies, at a meeting on Saturday that they had a week to remove their barriers.

46 sites

The ministry had identified 46 sites in Kabul where the barriers must come down, said a ministry spokesman, Yousuf Stanizai. A presidential spokesman, Khaleeq Ahmad, said no exceptions would be made to the decree.

US military forces were not rushing to comply. Representatives of the US-led coalition forces, among others, "registered their concerns about the general proposal" on Saturday, said a US military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Laurent Fox.

The issue was not resolved and would be discussed again, he said.

The security contractors for the US military detained the al-Jazeera workers on Sunday as they filmed across the street from the US military headquarters here. The workers, a journalist, a cameraman and a driver, were held for six hours, handed over to the Afghan police and eventually freed without charge.

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