Delegates arrive for talks seen as crucial to Afghan future
Monday November 26, 4:56 AM AFP
As the first delegates arrived in Bonn for talks to shape a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance said negotiations would be crucial for lasting peace.
The Alliance's foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said the inter-Afghan conference due to begin here in western Germany on Tuesday was an "important first step" towards lasting political stability in his country.
"Because of the war, we have been able to liberate Afghanistan from its enemies, from the Taliban and their supporters," he told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
"What we have to do now is build lasting political stability. We are very happy that the first steps towards this are being taken at the Bonn conference."
The first Afghan delegates began arriving in an overcast Bonn on Sunday, ahead of the landmark discussions, which will tackle the difficult issue of ethnic representation in a provisional council in Afghanistan.
The German foreign ministry said the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, had already arrived in the former West German capital.
"Two delegations have arrived, from Rome and Cyprus," said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the UN's senior special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, adding that the rest of the delegates were expected Monday.
Fawzi said that Brahimi, the personal envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, held several rounds of talks with various parties on Sunday.
He added that the talks will have succeeded if delegates managed to agree on the way of forming a transitional government.
The United Nations "is coming here with great willingness and open-mindedness and we hope others are too," Fawzi told journalists.
A total of 21 delegates are expected to take part in the talks, including several from the mainly ethnic Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance, the ethnic Hazara community, as well as supporters of the former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, a Pashtun.
The United Nations has not yet released a definitive list of those attending, but would do so on Monday, Fawzi said.
Anxious not to let expectations run wild, Abdullah warned that the conference was only the first step in Afghanistan's renewal process.
"A new government cannot be formed at the conference. The ultimate decision concerning the future government must be taken independently in Afghanistan," he said, adding that free elections would be impossible for about a year.
Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani said on Sunday the largest delegation would be composed of 11 representatives from the Northern Alliance, including one woman.
Four delegates are expected from the Shura of Rome, representing exiled former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, and will join two three-member teams from Peshawar and Cyprus.
The Shura of Cyprus will include representatives of the ethnic Hazara community and of the Iran-backed Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Meanwhile, a Peshawar delegation will be headed by Pir Syed Ahmad Gailani, an ethnic Pashtun backed by Islamabad.
Originally set to begin Monday, the talks were postponed for logistical reasons and to allow more time for preliminary discussions, the UN said.
A series of preliminary bilateral talks between the various delegations are scheduled for Monday, including meetings with UN envoy Brahimi.
The conference, entitled "Discussion on Afghanistan," will take place in the Petersberg, an official German government residence nestled in the mountains about 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Bonn.
A German government spokesman said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer would attend the opening ceremony at the invitation of the United Nations, but otherwise only Afghan representatives and UN officials would take part.
Spokesman Andreas Michaelis emphasised that the UN was hosting the meeting, with Germany acting purely to provide technical support.
The United States is sending two envoys to observe the talks.
The talks come after the United Nations and the Northern Alliance on Tuesday announced an agreement for the talks, aimed at creating a future Afghan government.
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