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Group of UN ambassadors visits Afghanistan

Delegation of UN envoys arrived in Kabul to "show world's commitment to rebuilding the country and its support for Hamid Karzai".

world Updated: Nov 08, 2003 02:20 IST

A delegation of UN ambassadors arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday to "show the international community's commitment to rebuilding the country and its support for president Hamid Karzai".

The delegation includes UN ambassadors of Germany, United States, Britain, France, Mexico, Spain and Bulgaria besides deputy ambassadors of Russia and Pakistan. They reached Kabul on a German military plane from Pakistan Sunday afternoon, and were received by senior officials, including Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy to Afghanistan.

Gunter Pleuger, the Germany ambassador who heads the weeklong mission,said they had three messages for Afghans and their leaders.

"The first is that Afghanistan is high on the agenda of the Security Council and that the Security Council and the international community support the reconstruction process in Afghanistan," Pleuger told reporters.

The second message, he said, was that the Security Council supports the efforts by the government of President Hamid Karzai to implement the 2001 Bonn agreement establishing a political process, including the transitional government now led by Karzai. Pleuger said he also wanted the country's "faction and provincial leaders to cooperate fully with the central government to implement the Bonn agreement, because otherwise we will not have the necessary security to do the preparations, especially for the elections."

The council's trip comes as Afghanistan faces a key milestone, with drafters putting the final touches on the country's post-Taliban constitution. The long-delayed document is to be debated at a constitutional convention next month, to be followed by nationwide elections in June 2004.

Afghanistan's central government in Kabul still has little authority in the rest of the country, much of which is ruled by warlords and their private militias.

The ambassadors met first with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah, who thanked them for their support and briefed them on the security situation in the country. They were expected to meet with Karzai later.

Pleuger said they also were scheduled to meet U.N. officials, aid groups and members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Last month, the Security Council approved expanding the mission of the 5,500-member force, which currently is deployed only in Kabul. A German advance team is preparing for the arrival of a 450-strong mission in the northern city of Kunduz. However, no country has yet volunteered troops for other missions to parts of Afghanistan with greater potential for instability. After meeting with officials in Kabul, the delegation will also see local leaders in the cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif before departing Thursday.

The ambassadors are to travel through Afghanistan in a German military plane with anti-missile capabilities, and because of security concerns they are skipping a stop in the southern city of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold and an area where security remains tenuous. Some ethnic Pashtun leaders from that region will instead meet the delegation in Kabul.

The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif has been an area of continuing tensions between two warlords _ the ethnic Uzbek leader Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik rival, Gen. Atta Mohammed. Despite their long-standing rivalry, both cooperated with the U.S.-led coalition to help oust the Taliban from power in late 2001. Tanks faced off just outside the city in fighting last month, and one side claimed more than 60 people died. The United Nations and government representatives helped negotiate a cease-fire, but smaller skirmishes have broken out between the two sides in other northern areas.

Further clashes which began Friday between Dostum's and Mohammed's troops have left at least three soldiers and two civilians dead.

Asked if the Security Council would try to bring the warlords to heel, Pleuger said: "It's not the mission of the Security Council to call them to order."

"We will speak with the local warlords and call to their attention the responsibility for the whole country demanded from them, that they work together with the central government-- economically, politically and above all for security-- or else the implementation of the Bonn agreement will be extremely difficult," he said.

First Published: Nov 02, 2003 18:30 IST