More than 100 killed or injured in new Afghan quake
Friday April 12, 5:55 PM (AFP)
More than 100 people were feared dead or injured after a new earthquake struck northern Afghanistan, just weeks after some 800 died in a quake in the same area.
Workers for French aid agency ACTED based in Nahrin, the scene of the disaster late last month, said the quake which measured up to 5.8 on the Richter scale had severely damaged a nearby village.
"According to our information, the village most severely damaged is Doabi, 30 minutes drive from Nahrin," ACTED worker Hugues Belloc told AFP from Pul-i-Khumri, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Nahrin.
"More than 100 people are dead or injured. Other people are still trapped under the rubble," he said Friday.
Earlier, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that the epicentre of the quake was just 40 kilometers south of Nahrin, but it was hoped that the number of casualties would be considerably lower than last time.
"It is in a lightly populated area, therefore not expected to have heavy damage to buildings or people," Peter Maxwell told AFP.
He said the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) had a base at Pul-i-Khumri, and many aid agencies were still in Nahrin as part of the extended relief effort.
"The local capacity may well be able to cope, if the supposition is correct that the damage to buildings and people is light then one would think that the capacity to do it from Nahrin or Pul-i-Khumri (was sufficient).
"If it proved to be more than that, then similar procedures could be adopted (as at Nahrin)."
Maxwell added that the earthquake was classified as "flat", which is "potentially more damaging than other quakes".
Seismologists in Pakistan had earlier said the quake registered 5.6 on the Richter scale while the Earth Sciences Observatory in Strasbourg, France, measured the quake at 5.8.
"The temblor hit around 10:05 am (0405 GMT) and we are assessing its intensity," seismologist Malik Salahuddin told AFP from the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.
The March 25 quake in the same area, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, killed at least 800 people, according to United Nations estimates.
It left thousands of families homeless in a region already hit by severe drought and civil conflict.
Friday April 12, 5:27 PM (AFP)
KABUL, April 12 Asia Pulse - Afghanistan's first mobile GSM network was launched on Saturday April 6, with Chairman of Afghanistan's Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai, in attendance.
The new mobile public network was built and operated and will be managed by the Afghan Wireless Communications Comoany (AWCC), a joint venture Afghanistan's Ministry of Communications and Telephone Systems International (TSI).
The AWCC GSM network will provide Afghanistan with national and international mobile calling, voice mail, SMS text messaging and data services -- including Internet access.
The first phase of the project will provide services in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sherif, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Equipment for Herat and Mazar-i-Sherif has arrived in Afghanistan and installation is commencing this week. Equipment for Jalalabad and Kandahar has been integrated in the US and is awaiting shipment, the AWCC said in a statement.
WorldCom will handle the international traffic and call termination for the mobile services and, initially, users will pay for the service through the purchase of pre-paid re-charge cards that AWCC is making available in the country.
WorldCom will provide a similar service from fixed-line telephones and access to these services will be through pre-paid calling cards. Customers without their own phones will be able to make calls from Public Call Offices (PCOs).
By Tabassum Zakaria
Friday April 12, 12:09 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, will be considered alive until forensic evidence proves the contrary, U.S. officials said on Thursday as DNA testing continued on tissue samples from Afghanistan.
U.S. authorities have obtained DNA that could identify bin Laden and were testing tissue samples from a site in the Zawar Kili area of Afghanistan where a small group of men, believed to include a senior al Qaeda official, was struck on February 4 by a missile from an unmanned "Predator" plane.
Six months after the United States began its bombing campaign in Afghanistan to destroy bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, the hunt for the man that President George W. Bush once said he wanted "dead or alive" has not yet found him.
The United States blames bin Laden and al Qaeda for the September 11 attacks on America that killed about 3,000 people.
The fate of the Saudi-born militant with a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head remains a mystery, but U.S. officials say they consider him alive until evidence proves otherwise.
"I believe ultimately that we with our allies will find Osama bin Laden. I personally believe he's alive and I will believe that until the forensic evidence shows otherwise," said Sen. Richard Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
WILL SURFACE IF ALIVE
"If he's alive he will reappear, he will surface," Shelby, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Reuters.
Bin Laden is most likely still in Afghanistan or perhaps in the border region of Pakistan, he said. "I believe we will find and destroy Osama bin Laden -- I don't know when that's going to be," Shelby said.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who is overseeing the war on Afghanistan, was asked at the Foreign Press Center why the world's most advanced military had failed to kill or capture bin Laden.
"That's not what militaries do," Franks said, referring to finding a single individual or a small group of people. He noted that even the best law enforcement capabilities sometimes took years to find one fugitive.
"It's possible for people to hide for some period of time, but I can tell you that these people are on the run," he said, expressing optimism that bin Laden would be found.
"Will we get them? We will get them, but I don't think any of us will predict the time," Franks said.
"I will not believe that one of these personalities is dead or captured until I see evidence that he is dead or until I know he's been captured," Franks said.
"And so in some cases we simply don't know. I have not seen evidence that bin Laden is dead and so I must believe that he is still alive, and I think it will be like that until we get confirmation, but the confirmation will come," he said.
The highest-ranked member of al Qaeda currently in U.S. custody is Abu Zubaydah, a top bin Laden deputy who was believed to have recruited members and coordinated their travels in and out of Afghan training camps.
Zubaydah, considered a prize capture, was being treated for three gunshot wounds received during the raid that caught him in Pakistan. U.S. officials have been extremely tight-lipped about his location for security reasons.
"He is under our control, he is under medical treatment, he is at no risk as I understand it of loss of life," Franks said. "I think it probably wouldn't be appropriate to talk about the discussions that we're having with Abu Zubaydah," he said.
Friday April 12, 6:36 AM (AFP)
Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar arrived Thursday in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan for talks on regional security and the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan.
"We have a lot in common with Tajikistan, we have common traditions and norms, and we're members of one anti-terrorist coalition," Sattar said on arrival to the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
Chinese Merchant's Shoe Samples Set Off SF Airport Alert
A Chinese businessman is temporarily out of business after police destroyed his samples - a pair of heated shoes that set off a security alert at San Francisco International Airport.
Guo Yongqiiang was in hot water Wednesday after screeners at a United Airlines gate spotted a pair of black loafers stuffed with wires and batteries in his carryon luggage.
HHS, Drug Companies To Give Bioterror Info To Doctors
Pharmaceutical sales people who give doctors drug samples and logo-laden calendars will now distribute government-sanctioned pamphlets on bioterrorism.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday it teamed up with drug makers to inform doctors of what symptoms to look out for and what to do in case of outbreaks.
U.K. Likely To Head Afghanistan Force Until June
The U.K. said Thursday it is unlikely to hand over leadership of the international security force in Afghanistan before June.
Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons that no firm date had been agreed for the handover of the force to Turkey, which has agreed in principle to take over.
International Donors Impressed With Afghan Govt; New Loan Offered
International donors wrapped up a two-day conference here Thursday, saying they were impressed with the interim government's progress since the Taliban were swept from power last year.
The World Bank said it would give Hamid Karzai's administration a new $100 million loan to help fund this year's budget, and challenged other donors to do the same.
Peacekeepers, Afghan Police Find 151 Chinese-Made Rockets
In a joint operation with Afghan police, international peacekeepers discovered a cache of 151 Chinese-made rockets, the same kind fired at the security force over the weekend, a peacekeeping spokesman said Thursday.
Flight Lt. Joel Fall said the 107 mm rockets were found Wednesday on the Russian road that runs north from Kabul to Bagram, where U.S. troops are based.
Al-Qaida Sought Nuclear Scientists - Washington Times
Two Afghan nuclear scientists, in the strongest indication yet that al-Qaida was trying to construct a nuclear bomb, have revealed how the terrorist group attempted to recruit them, The Washington Times reported in its Wednesday editions.
The scientists disclosed how they had risked their lives by hiding radioactive materials, sufficient to make dozens of "dirty bombs," in the ruins of the old Aliabad mental hospital in Kabul and in the grimy basement of Kabul University's nuclear physics department.
U.S. Pilots Hurt In Afghan Helicopter Crash Flown Out
Two U.S. Army pilots injured when their Apache helicopter crashed have been flown out of Afghanistan for medical treatment, a military spokesman said Thursday.
The pilots, whose names haven't been released, were hurt when their helicopter crashed northeast of Kandahar Wednesday. They suffered broken bones, but their injuries aren't believed to be life threatening, said spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty.
Russia Urges Central Asia States To Fight Terrorism Together
The secretary of Russia's Security Council called on his colleagues from five other former Soviet republics to fight jointly against terrorism, saying the success of that battle would be decisive in deciding the region's economic future.
"Russia favors the broadest cooperation on this issue with all countries, including the United States," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Vladimir Rushailo as saying at the start of a meeting of security officials from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of former Soviet republics.
Afghan Working For U.N. Aid Body Murdered In Mazar-e-Sharif
An Afghan working for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, was murdered Wednesday, the U.N. said Thursday.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said Shah Sayed was killed by three assailants who entered his home.
Silva read a statement from U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, who condemned the killing as part of a "disturbing pattern" of attacks on humanitarian workers in northern Afghanistan.
Afghan Refugees Pass After Poppy Farmers End Protest -NYT
Thousands of Afghan refugees began filing home across the country's eastern border after poppy farmers called off a protest that had blocked their passage, The New York Times reported in its Thursday editions.
More than 10,000 Afghans crossed back into the country from Pakistan a day after repatriations were suspended after occasionally violent protests by poppy farmers angered over a government campaign to destroy their crops.
Fed Santomero: Sept. 11 Taught Fed To Beef Up Backup Plans
Although the banking payment system didn't collapse after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the event showed Federal Reserve officials and others the need to pay greater attention to backup plans, Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Anthony Santomero said Thursday.
"The Fed has begun to beef up its contingency arrangements," Santomero said, repeating similar comments from other Fed officials. Banks should see a greater emphasis on backup plans, he said in opening remarks at a conference on the post-Sept. 11 economy.
For all of the stories on the War on Terrorism, search N/911.
Friday April 12, 4:28 PM (AFP)
The Government has revealed that Mas Selamat Kastari, the Jemaah Islamiyah leader on the run from Singapore, was planning to hijack either a US, British or Singapore Airlines plane in the region and crash it into Changi Airport.
Revealing a little more about the plan that was first mentioned by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in Parliament last week, the Home Affairs Ministry said Mas Selamat had discussed his plan with JI members on two occasions last December.
Some of them are now under ISA detention.
Mas Selamat said his aim was to stop the US attack on Afghanistan.
However, he and four other JI members later fled Singapore to Malaysia, before proceeding to Thailand.
But before that, Mas Selamat deliberately damaged his computer hard disk to destroy incriminating evidence.
In response to the threat, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alert was issued on December 29.
Mas Selamat's photograph has also been circulated to all security agencies.
He and his group subsequently left Thailand for Medan, Indonesia.
Their current whereabouts are unknown.
By Susan B. Glasser and Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 12, 2002; Page A01
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 11 -- A wave of violence and political conflict in recent days has set Afghanistan on edge and threatens key steps on the fractured country's road to reconstruction, including the scheduled return next week of the exiled king and the promised delivery of hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid.
In a week that began with an assassination attempt against the defense minister, new reports of instability have emerged every day since. Just today, the United Nations reported the murder of an aid worker in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, while international peacekeepers turned up a large weapons cache near the capital. The Afghan government has also been confronted by factional fighting between local commanders near Iran and by revolts in the southern part of the country by poppy farmers upset over the eradication of their lucrative crop, which is used to make opium.
"The last few days have not been very positive," said John Fairhurst, who heads operations in Afghanistan for the international aid group Oxfam. "Everyone's quite jittery."
Such anxiety was in evidence today at the conclusion of a two-day conference of international donors who pledged in Tokyo earlier this year to give $1.8 billion for Afghan reconstruction but so far have handed over only $360 million. The meeting here was designed, as a top U.N. official put it, "to move from plans to action." But the Afghan interim government came away with little more than new promises from a handful of countries and a $100 million loan offer from the World Bank that the Afghans would prefer not to accept, in light of pledged donations.
During the closed-door talks, donors expressed deep concern about the security situation, according to participants. "They don't want to give money to support the interim administration," said an attendee who did not want to be named. "They are worried about security and what they see as continuing instability."
Similar apprehension may yet thwart the planned return of former king Mohammed Zahir Shah, a popular figure among many Afghans but also the target of virulent opposition from anti-government forces. Zahir Shah already has postponed his trip several times because of security concerns. An Afghan government spokesman today said the king remains committed to coming next Tuesday, but many in Kabul remain skeptical.
Persistent violent outbreaks could also cause problems for the next stage in the process of creating a genuine democratic government in Afghanistan. Voting begins next week in a lengthy and complicated process to select delegates to a loya jirga, or national assembly, that will meet in June to establish a transitional government. The first voting is scheduled to begin in Mazar-e Sharif on Monday.
But Mazar-e Sharif was the scene of the latest in a series of bloody incidents giving rise to the growing unease. A U.N. employee was dragged from his bed and killed by unknown gunmen on Wednesday, part of what the international organization today deemed "a disturbing pattern of attacks against civilians" in the north in recent months. Shah Sayed, an Afghan staffer of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, was roused from his bedroom by three gunmen and shot to death in his house.
The world body lodged an official complaint with the government in Kabul and pledged to take up the matter with Abdurrashid Dostum, who rules Mazar-e Sharif and also serves as deputy defense minister of the interim government. U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva listed several violent incidents involving aid workers in the north, including a February attack when armed men broke into the home of an Afghan aid worker and "raped the women and looted all the household assets."
Other parts of the country also have experienced disturbances this week. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, a bomb attack Monday narrowly missed a convoy that included Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, killing five bystanders. Not far away, poppy farmers protesting the government's anti-drug program succeeded, at least temporarily, in blocking the key highway to Pakistan.
By later in the week, the highway was reopened and several suspects were arrested in the attempted attack on Fahim. A senior Defense Ministry aide said today that four suspects were in custody; he described them as "men for hire," but did not disclose who might have paid them. A top local leader in Jalalabad, Mohammed Zaman, said in a telephone interview that only two men had been arrested.
"The security situation in the country is fragile," Zaman said, "and there are elements within the country who would like to take advantage of that."
Even in Kabul, which has been a relative oasis of calm, men have been rounded up recently in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the capital and a rocket attack against international peacekeepers. Afghan authorities and peacekeeping troops reported that raids today and Wednesday in and around Kabul turned up 151 Chinese-made 107mm rockets similar to those fired at the peacekeepers' base on Sunday, as well as other ammunition and explosives.
A security official said additional mass arrests of armed men suspected of seeking to destabilize the government are anticipated. Last week, the government rounded up hundreds of men in Kabul allegedly affiliated with the radical Hezb-i-Islami party headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a commander who rose to prominence in the 1980s war against the Soviets and is an opponent of the current government.
Col. Mir Jan, a Defense Ministry spokesman, acknowledged today, however, that the alleged plotters were not seeking to topple Hamid Karzai, the interim Afghan chairman. After a week of interrogation, he said, the prisoners have said that "they themselves were convinced they did not have the ability to overthrow the government. They wanted to produce anarchy and chaos in the city, to destabilize the situation."
Mir Jan absolved the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami faction in Kabul, Wahidullah Sabawoon, of any involvement, calling him "honest and loyal to the interim administration. Sabawoon did not know about this plot."
About 130 of those arrested were staying at two guesthouses owned by Sabawoon, and the detainees included his nephew, brother-in-law, guard and cook as well as eight or nine members of his party's leadership council. In an interview at his house, Sabawoon repeated that he had long ago broken with Hekmatyar, who served briefly as prime minister in the 1990s, and had no contact with him. Sabawoon, a former defense minister and finance minister, said he believed those imprisoned were not involved in a violent plot.
"I know all of them but they're not suspect people," he said. "All of them are good people." Although he lost his government post in the agreement that put Karzai in office, Sabawoon insisted he remained loyal. "I support Karzai," he said. "I don't have any problem with Karzai."
The fractious situation in Afghanistan could hurt Karzai's ability to bring in money desperately needed to ensure security and rebuild a nation wracked by 23 years of war.
The government said in its new $460 million budget proposal that it plans to spend about $100 million on defense and creation of a national army to replace Afghanistan's current patchwork of armed gunmen reporting to local warlords. But the government does not have enough money even to pay salaries.
Several countries announced today that they would write checks to cover some of Afghanistan's most pressing expenses -- ranging from about $30 million from the Netherlands to $10 million from Germany and $7 million from Italy. But the Afghan government estimated it needs $1 million a day just to keep operating, suggesting those relatively modest sums would run out quickly. For a $288 million list of "quick-impact projects" that the government hopes to implement, only $26 million has been offered.
And even the $100 million loan offered by the World Bank today amounted to a reminder that other international donors have yet to come through. Finance Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala said he did not want to have to accept the loan: "My hope is that will be a last resort. My hope is that other donors will provide the resources."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
By Niko Price
Associated Press Writer
Friday, April 12, 2002; 7:13 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan –– A senior police official reported fierce fighting Friday just west of Kabul between two rival militias, but a security official in the area dismissed it as a crackdown on criminals.
Zapto Alokozai, a senior federal police official in Kabul, said six people were killed and two were wounded as fighters battled with Kalashnikov rifles, mortars and anti-tank missiles in Dashte Top, 25 miles west of Kabul.
Alokozai returned Friday from a trip to the area, which is near Maidan Shahr, the site of heavy fighting in November.
But Abdul Ahmad, a security chief in the area, said by satellite telephone that there were no casualties. He said his forces arrested at least 15 people involved in stealing a motorcycle and looting.
The conflicting versions could not immediately be reconciled.
Travelers to the area said they were held up for hours Friday because of roadblocks.
Alokozai said the fighting erupted at 5 a.m. Friday between forces loyal to two commanders: Zafar Uddin, a follower of former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Nangialai, who is trying to install himself as governor. The six dead were members of Uddin's militia, Alokozai said.
Afghanistan's interim government accuses Hekmatyar of attacks aimed at undermining its authority. Last week, security forces arrested at least 160 members of Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami party, and about 100 of them remain in jail.
According to Alokozai, Nangialai supports the loya jirga – an internationally supported grand council scheduled for June to select a new government – and the exiled former king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, who is expected to return to Afghanistan this month.
Alokozai said Uddin's men launched an attack Friday morning and captured two villages.
"Uddin's idea is to capture more area and rehabilitate Hezb-e-Islami ... and to defeat the people who are supporting the king and the loya jirga," he said.
Turf wars between rival militias threaten to destabilize the interim administration of Hamid Karzai as it seeks to end 23 years of war. Afghanistan has only a fledgling army, and Karzai's government has little authority in many parts of the country.
By Kate Clark
BBC correspondent in Kabul
Afghanistan's interim Finance Minister, Amin Arsala, has said international donors and financial institutions have endorsed his government's annual budget and development framework.
He was speaking at the end of a major aid conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in which the World Bank said it was so impressed it has offered $100m worth of aid.
Most of the delegates - officials from the Afghan Government, the United Nations, World Bank and aid agencies - left the conference in a very upbeat mood.
But the military part of the budget was queried by some delegates.
The interim government has put forward a budget and a framework for national development focusing on projects with a quick impact.
They range from public works programmes and training for demobilized fighters, the rebuilding of cement, brick and tar factories, and help with irrigation, livestock and market places.
There is an emphasis on quick results
Finance Minister Amin Arsala said the government intended to be transparent and efficient and asked donors to simplify their bureaucracy.
The World Bank said the plans were of outstanding quality, particularly given they had been written in a very short period.
It has offered $100m worth of soft loans - a challenge, it said, to other major donors to make good their pledges of aid.
More radical voices within the aid community also said they were impressed and that they were confident the interim government was moving in the right direction.
But some queried why the high military expenditure should be so high - over a quarter of the budget with another quarter being spent on police and justice.
This in a country where health and education are in many places minimal or non-existent.
But the interim authority says the spending will ensure security, without which, it says, development cannot happen.
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