Suspected Taliban Kill Six Afghan Troops
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban fighters ambushed six Afghan soldiers on a road in southern Afghanistan killing all of them, a provincial government spokesman said Friday.
The dead included a local commander. They were riding three motorcycles when they came under attack late Thursday in the village of Thaloqan in Panjwayi district, 37 miles southwest of Kandahar, said Khalid Pashtun, spokesman the Kandahar provincial governor.
Authorities launched a search for the Taliban fighters after the attack and have so far detained 12 suspects.
"We know it is the work of Taliban, and we are trying to arrest them," Pashtun said, although he offered no evidence of the rebels' involvement.
Kandahar was a stronghold of the former Taliban regime, ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001. Since then, Taliban guerrillas have attacked Afghan and American soldiers, government offices, foreign firms and aid workers to weaken the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Panjwayi has seen several such attacks in the recent months.
On Monday, Taliban attacked a government office and a local charity in Panjwayi, killing a soldier and two workers. Six soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Afghans Detain Suspected Killers of Aid Workers
Thu Apr 29, 8:39 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan authorities have arrested 18 members of the ousted Taliban regime suspected of killing two local aid workers in the restive southern province of Kandahar, a senior official said on Thursday.
Shocked by killing, the United Nations has called for urgent measures to boost security in the province, where it has been forced to reduce its activities, a U.N. spokesman said.
The two employees of the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance group were shot dead during a raid on their compound in the Panjwai district late on Monday. The attack coincided with a raid on the district's police headquarters.
Officials have blamed Taliban remnants for the attacks in Kandahar province, once the bastion of the radical Islamic militia overthrown by U.S.-led forces late in 2001.
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said 18 Taliban suspects had been detained after the twin attacks.
"Among them, there are suspected killers of the aid workers," Jalali told reporters.
The U.S. military in Afghanistan has said Taliban guerrillas have stepped up their attacks in the last few weeks as the country prepares for landmark elections in September.
The Taliban has declared a holy war against U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai's government, foreign troops and aid workers in the country.
Poor Security Hurts Afghan Election Plans
Thu Apr 29, 8:37 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Poor security is hurting plans to register voters for Afghanistan's first post-Taliban elections, a top Afghan official said Thursday.
Officials hope to register voters nationwide in a two-month drive starting Saturday, but are unable to begin in four insurgency-plagued provinces, chief election official Farooq Wardak said.
Wardak said he expected registration in eastern Nuristan would begin a week late, but offered no forecast for Zabul, Uruzgan and Paktika — three provinces farther south where Taliban sympathies run deep and the government has limited control.
"First, we have to provide security. Then we will decide when we can start our work in those three," Wardak said at a news conference with U.N. officials.
U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai has been forced to postpone the election from June to September because of slow progress in registering an estimated 10 million eligible voters.
The United Nations has registered almost 1.9 million people in eight major cities in a first phase of a registration drive. Thirty percent of those registered are women.
The remaining 8 million eligible voters live mainly in remote rural areas, forcing U.N. and Afghan staff to expose themselves to attacks in the south and east.
A remote-controlled roadside bomb set off last week in southern Kandahar as U.N. electoral workers passed has forced a suspension of their work in the region.
Wardak said delaying the election until September meant registration could continue beyond June in problem areas. He also repeated appeals to international and Afghan security forces to help get Afghans signed up and to protect the vote itself.
"If there is no security, we will find it very difficult," he said.
Afghan govt to launch 2nd phase of voter registration
KABUL - As the date for the first-ever presidential and parliamentary elections in the post-Taliban Afghanistan is drawing closer, the Afghan transitional government is going to launch a nationwide voter registration in the weekend, an official said Thursday.
"From Saturday, May 1, we will start the second phase of registration in 240 registration centers all over Afghanistan and these centers will be expanded to 4,600 eventually," Farooq Wardak,director of the Joint Electoral management Body (JEMB), told reporters at a news conference here.
The process, he said, would begin with 240 teams and each team consists of a team leader, registration officer, photographer and laminator.
Since the launching of the first phase of registration process in December last year, around 1.9 million out of 10.5 million eligible voters have registered.
The Kabul authorities have put off the landmark elections from June to September due to security concerns and slow process of registration.
"We are hopeful to complete the job of registration by the end of June otherwise we will extend the program beyond 30th of the June until to complete it," the official added.
He also excluded the restive provinces of Zabul, Uruzgan, Paktika and Nooristan from the second phase of the registration, saying, "We are hopeful to launch the program in these areas very soon."
The southern provinces of Zabul, Uruzgan and surrounding areas, Paktika in the southeast and Nooristan in the east have been the scenes of Taliban-linked violent insurgencies for the last several months.
Remnants of the hard-line Taliban movement whose regime was deposed under a US-led military campaign over two years ago have vowed to disrupt any activities run under the US clout in the war-plagued country.
"I would very much like to urge all the eligible Afghans to getregistered and make themselves eligible to take part in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections," Wardak wenton to say.
More than 20 people including civilians, government and US soldiers have been killed in Taliban-related insurgency over the past month in the troubled rugged southern region along the border with Pakistan.
Iranian, Afghan officials agree to boost refugee returns
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 29 (UNHCR) – Iranian officials agreed in a meeting with the Afghan government on Wednesday on measures to boost the repatriation of Afghan refugees back to their homeland, including plans for Afghan officials and recent returnees to meet with refugees in Iran, additional transport capacity, and a waiver of fees for poor refugees seeking to leave.
The discussions took place under the auspices of the April 2002 tripartite agreement on repatriation signed by the two governments and UNHCR. Some 700,000 Afghans have returned from Iran since the agreement was signed, including 50,000 so far this year.
Afghanistan's Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Mohammad Naim Ghiacy, hosted the discussions. It was the third meeting of the Tripartite Commission which last met in March 2003 to review the pace of the repatriation effort and options to help increase returns.
Iran's delegation at the Kabul talks was led by Ahmed Hosseini, adviser to the Minister of Interior and Director-General of Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigration Affairs (BAFIA). UNHCR was represented by Filippo Grandi and Philippe Lavanchy, the agency's country directors for Afghanistan and Iran respectively.
During the meeting, the governments reaffirmed their commitment on the voluntary character of the repatriation of Afghans as described in the Joint Programme between the UN refugee agency and the Iranian government that covers Afghans registered by Iran and who can benefit from UNHCR's repatriation assistance.
The parties agreed that go-and-talk missions would be organised so that Afghan officials and recent returnees could regularly go to Iran to tell refugees about conditions in their homeland.
On an experimental basis, a delegation led by the governor of central Afghanistan's Bamyan province undertook one such visit to Iran last January. That trial mission met with Afghan professionals, workers and other exiles as part of an effort to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Afghans to the centre of the country, which is thought to be one of Afghanistan's safest areas.
Other measures agreed at the Kabul meeting included boosting the transport capacity for Afghans returning from Iran, and a waiver of fees levied by BAFIA's provincial offices that have impeded the return of some poor refugees.
Afghanistan's officials agreed on the need to allocate land to returnees from Iran. UNHCR and Iran also announced the establishment of Dispute Settlement Committees in several key locations around the country to help resolve legal obstacles to refugee return.
The parties also announced that UNHCR would have access to Afghans being deported via Iran's southern Milak crossing point, as is already the case for individuals being sent back over the main Dogharoun exit point. They also pledged their support for the inclusion of Iran's Afghan refugees in their country's forthcoming national elections.
Participants in the discussions also acknowledged the need to continue their consultations on the search for solutions for Afghans in Iran beyond the March 2005 expiration of the joint repatriation initiative. The next meeting of the tripartite commission will take place in Geneva this September under the chairmanship of the UN refugee agency.
The Islamic Republic of Iran hosts some 2 million Afghans, of whom some 800,000 are considered refugees.
75,000 Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan this year
ISLAMABAD, Apr 29, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- About 75,000 Afghan refugees have so far been repatriated from various parts of Pakistan this year, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported here on Thursday.
Some 13,000 of the refugees returned from refugee camps in Balochistan province, the report quoted a spokesman of UNHCR as saying.
Babar Baloch, the spokesman of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in western Pakistan city of Quetta said about 500,000 Afghan refugees would return to Afghanistan by the end of this year.
A new phase of repatriation of the Afghan refugees started on March 15 this year, he said.
The spokesman said nearly 100 refugee families are being sent to Afghanistan through vehicles daily with the assistance of UNHCR 's Quetta Office.
He said, the commission provides transport facilities besides assistance of 30 US dollars to every Afghan family for their transportation and 8 dollars for their food.
With the help of UNHCR, more than 2 million Afghan refugees have returned their country from Pakistan in the past two years.
Afghanistan's economy expected to keep surging
Source: Asian Development Bank
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (28 April 2004) - The economy of Afghanistan is likely to keep surging ahead over the next few years, provided that international aid flows continue and the security situation improves, according to a major Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released today.
The Asian Development Outlook 2004 (ADO), an annual ADB publication that looks at economic trends in the region, does not include an official growth forecast due to the lack of statistics. But it notes that annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates of 15% through 2008 are achievable. The growth could be followed by 10% annual growth over the following 5 years.
Good weather, sound economic policies and international aid have generated a significant rebound in GDP. With continued strong growth in agriculture, construction and services, GDP would likely grow by about 20% in FY 2003 (from 21 March 2003 to 20 March 2004), according to an International Monetary Fund projection.
"Economic prospects are promising, but whether rapid development will continue depends largely on the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan's investment needs and security," says the ADO.
In agriculture, which accounts for more than 50% of GDP and employs an estimated 80% of the economically active population, considerable potential exists for expanding irrigated areas with rehabilitation and new construction of water conservation projects.
The irrigation improvements and other practices could also reduce the substantial yield gap in cereal production. Agricultural GDP could grow by 5 to 7.5% annually. Such growth would need to be supported by shifting emphasis to low-volume, high-value crops for domestic consumption and export; revitalizing production of industrial crops like cotton and sugar beet; and improving productivity of livestock and promoting dairy activities.
While GDP growth will be driven mainly by agricultural growth, growth potentials in industry and services are much higher than in agriculture, and the economy will develop away from the current high share of agriculture.
"All scenarios depend on the realization of the hopes for peace, security, and further stability raised by the adoption of the Constitution and on the success of the national elections planned for 2004," says the ADO.
US, Afghan troops torture Pak tribesmen
Thursday April 29, 2004 (1634 PST) Pakistan News Tribune
MIRANSHAH, April 30 (Online): US and Afghan troops Thursday reportedly inflicted torture on the tribesmen of Mir Sparka of North Waziristan after crossing into Pakistan territory besides distributing pamphlets which called for arrest of an Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The pamphlet said that a prize of US dollar 2500 would be given to the person providing information which could lead to the arrest of the said commander.
The recipients of pamphlets told Online that their vehicle was intercepted by US and Afghan armed personnel while they were on their way to their village. We were subjected to torture and handed in the pamphlets, they said.
Ex-Afghan minister shot dead
Daily Balochistan 04/29/2004
CHAMAN - Former Afghan minister for Haj and Auqaf Maulana Abdul Bari was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in front his house in Kandahar Wednesday. According to details, Maulana Bari was going for morning prayers in Kandahar today.
Unknown persons riding two motor cycles approached him and sprayed bullets on him who later disappeared from the scene.
Maulana Bari died on the spot. Kandahar administration has accused Taliban for his murder. An official said that those are involved in the murder of Maulana Bari who had attacked Check post in District Panjwani Tuesday.
RPT-North Afghan town tense after blast misses official
By Ben Fenwick
MAIMANA, Afghanistan, April 29 (Reuters) - Tension in the northern Afghan province of Faryab ran high on Thursday after an official narrowly escaped a bomb blast, and young supporters of a renegade commander vowed violence if the governor was reinstated.
Followers of ethnic Uzbek commander and presidential adviser Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose forces overran the provincial capital three weeks ago forcing the governor to flee, rode around town on motorbikes and Dostum propaganda played over loudspeakers.
"If the governor returns we will make this another Palestine," said Najibullah Salimi, an organiser of the youth wing of Dostum's Junbish party.
Kabul-backed governor Anayatullah Anayat has yet to return to the residence he fled in Maimana, and Dostum's continued control of the town underlines the weakness of the U.S.-backed central government over outlying areas.
President Hamid Karzai, seeking to secure his volatile country in time for elections in September, faces the dual challenge of rebellious commanders with large private armies in the north and west and Islamic militants in the south and east.
Anayat's deputy, Sayeed Ahmed, was the apparent target of a bomb attack on his vehicle late on Wednesday, but was not in the car when the blast went off. His driver was injured, according to the U.S. military advising the Afghan National Army in the area.
Dostum has asked for a senior position in Karzai's cabinet, and his representatives have met the president in Kabul demanding Anayat be replaced because if his unpopularity with locals.
Karzai is considering the demands.
DOSTUM VS KARZAI?
Faryab is close to Dostum's northern stronghold of Shiberghan, he has a reputation for using a large private army to push his agenda in the north and the general is a rival to Maimana commander General Mohammad Hashim Habibi.
Dostum also opposes Karzai's vision of a centralised state and is concerned a disarmament drive could leave him vulnerable.
"The president said disarmament was going on across the country, and was not meant to be against one specific area," said presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin in Kabul.
Karzai wants to disarm 40,000 of Afghanistan's 100,000 private fighters and militiamen by the end of June.
U.S. officials suspect the rivalry in Faryab is partly linked to opium-rich land around Maimana, and want to see what they call "warlords" controlled in the violence-wracked country.
"The warlord question in Afghanistan will have to be answered," said U.S. Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Mosher, senior adviser to ANA troops in the region. "They are reluctant to give up their weapons as the source of their power."
Maimana is nominally under the control of Afghan police, and some 500 Afghan troops have been deployed to secure the peace after the fighting earlier this month.
But members of the youth wing of Junbish ride around town on motorbikes, and posters encouraging voters to register ahead of landmark polls in September were torn down overnight.
Most residents appear to be opposed to Anayat and Habibi, although they distance themselves from Junbish activists.
Junbish Youth members have taken over a compound in central Maimana that once belonged to Habibi, using the building to practise martial arts and attend classes.
The U.S. military, desperate to catch top al Qaeda targets including Osama bin Laden, has expressed concern that the fledgling Afghan army is being sucked into local disputes. There are some 15,500 U.S.-led troops in the country hunting militants.
The incident in Maimana follows fighting in the western city of Herat in March between Karzai's forces and a powerful local governor in which more than 100 people were killed.
Afghan schools burned down by suspected Taliban
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, April 29 (AFP) - Two schools, including one which had recently been rebuilt with international aid, were burned down by suspected Taliban in southern Afghanistan, officials said Thursday.
In the first incident a primary school in Landai village of Dand district south of Kandahar city was torched in the early hours of Wednesday morning by Taliban fighters and their allies, deputy military commander Hajji Grani told AFP.
"Taliban introduced themselves to the school kids of Landai village by burning their school in the darkness of night," Grani said.
The school watchman was tied up and then the school was burnt down, he said.
The building had recently been rebuilt after it had been destroyed during Afghanistan's more than two decades of conflict, Grani said.
On Wednesday night a second primary school was attacked in Arghandab district, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Kandahar city, a former Taliban stronghold, the administrator of the governor's office Dawood Barak told AFP.
"These cowards cannot frighten and scare my brave teachers and school kids," he said.
Kandahar, considered the birthplace of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime, has experienced much unrest in recent weeks with militants storming the compounds of government offices and an aid agency on Monday, killing two humanitarian workers and one soldier.
On Wednesday, a senior Muslim cleric was shot dead as he answered the door to his Kandahar home after he had spoken out against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and urged people to support the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
17 children rescued as kidnappings seen on the rise in Afghanistan
KABUL, April 29 (AFP) - Seventeen children kidnapped from the streets of Kabul have been liberated by authorities facing what appears to be a growing problem in Afghanistan, Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali said Thursday.
In the past few weeks police "have rescued more than 17 children from the grip of child-kidnappers," Jalali said, adding that police had arrested dozens of abductors.
"This means that the issue of child abduction is a major problem for the security organs," the minister added.
"Last year we arrested 100 people involved in the abduction of children.
"In the past two weeks we arrested one quarter of that number, so this means that child abduction is getting to be a more serious problem every day."
Most of the children are snatched on their way to schools, parks, videogame saloons, clubs and other areas.
"They kidnap children for different reasons -- for child abuse, to use them for smuggling and other crimes and... to use their body parts. The children are both boys and girls," the minister told reporters.
"It is both a domestic and international problem," he added.
At least 750 Afghan children were abducted and taken to Saudi Arabia last year with about 250 of them eventually returned home, the minister said.
A two-day government workshop on child trafficking which ended Thursday was preparing a national strategy on stopping the practice which has apparently increased recently but remains undocumented, a UN spokesman said.
With Child Kidnappings on Rise, Afghans Seek Help From Public
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 29 - The Afghan interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, made an unusual appeal to the public on Thursday to watch out for child kidnappers and traffickers, after the police uncovered widespread cases of child kidnapping across the country.
More than 187 children have been rescued from kidnappers, and 100 kidnappers have been caught in the past year, Mr. Jalali said. Women, girls and boys are being kidnapped in every province of the country, often by criminal networks that deal in human trafficking, using children for crime or even trading body parts, he said.
There are signs that the problem may be growing, he said, citing the fact that one-fourth of the 187 kidnapped children had been rescued just in the last month. The police rescued about 17 children in Kabul alone in the last two weeks, he said.
The recent increase may be because more cases are being reported now, Mr. Jalali said. But a lack of awareness and expertise among the police had allowed the problem to grow more serious, he said.
The police have organized special teams to campaign against kidnapping, and the recent increase in the number of children found is a sign of their success, he said. Ordinary citizens have played an important role in thwarting kidnappers or tipping off the police, and Mr. Jalali appealed for more help from the public.
Women and children are kidnapped for both the international and domestic markets, he said. Approximately 750 Afghan children have ended up in Saudi Arabia in past years, 250 of whom were repatriated last year, he said. Children are often used for street begging or child labor, and they have sometimes been sold or sent with the consent of their parents, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has said.
"Some of the cases which happened recently are particularly harrowing," Mr. Jalali said. "They are kidnapped with different aims, whether for illegal use, for trafficking, for use in different kinds of crimes and also unfortunately they kidnap them to use parts of their bodies."
Amusement Park Coming to Kabul
IWPR 04/29/2004 By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada
In a nation where kite flying was once outlawed, the prospect of having a park with a Ferris wheel and swings is greeted with excitement, and apprehension.
First came the colorful kites flying in the skies over Kabul after the fall of the Taleban. Then came footballs and volleyballs.
Now Kabul residents are about to get a diversion once thought impossible in this conservative Islamic country.
Under an agreement with the city, a private firm is building the country's first amusement park, complete with a Ferris wheel, in the city's central Zarnigar Park.
Jawid, 13, said he's looking forward to going there with his family. Zia, 26, a literature student at Kabul University, also plans to visit as soon as the park opens. And Wali Murtaza, 19, a student at Habibia High School, said the park is a welcome idea.
But he wondered if the country didn't have more important priorities. "If one really wants to take care of our people, [they] should provide the things which are needed more than these parks," he said.
The park, which is due to open in May, has already drawn criticism from traditionalists who say it violates tenets of Islam by encouraging women to be seen in public.
"The Islam religion does not allow women to appear among men without wearing burqas," said Mohammed Ayub, a mullah with the Baghbanbashi Mosque, located not far from the park. "Having fun in this park is not permitted for them because men who are not their relatives will see them."
Abdulrahman, 60, said he does not believe the park violates any rules of Islam, but still thinks tradition will keep many people from using it.
"According to the Islam religion and our culture, families are allowed to have fun in an amusement place," he said. "But this amusement park, which is built in Zarnigar Park, is still full of jobless people and addicts, so how can families have fun there?"
Afghans may be reluctant to use the park, he said, because traditional attitudes, "will not allow us to be there with our female members of our families, and ride on the Ferris wheels in front of men," he said.
But Mohammad Es-haaq Amin, the deputy direct of the company that is building the park, the Faiz Mohammad Mahtabudin Company, defends the project, saying it will help revitalise the city.
"All the parks have been changed to dustbins and places for the drug trade," he said. "We want to build a suitable environment for families to take advantage of and to have fun."
Admission will cost two afganis; each ride will cost extra. The park will include a Ferris wheel, giant swings, electric cars and electric trains.
According to the contract, the company will share any profits with the city. For the first five years, the city will collect 15 percent of the gross income, and for the remaining 15 years, the city will receive 20 percent. After this 20-year period, the park will become the property of the city.
Security is a concern for the park, Amin said, and the company plans to hire guards to patrol the park, along with the city's police officers.
Some Kabul residents still have their doubts about whether such a facility can be a success in Afghanistan.
Khushal, 50, an employee of the Ministry of Finance, said Afghan society may not be ready for this kind of public entertainment, and many people may not feel comfortable being there.
Schools should teach young people how to behave properly in the amusement park, Khushal said.
Abdul Rashid Janbaz, director of city planning, said park safety will be improved with fencing to keep out those who do not belong there and that the police also will assist with security.
The new amusement park is part of an on-going plan to build more recreation areas throughout the city, Janbaz said. "We have plans to construct a 20-hectare park in Chemtala district in northwest of Kabul with assistance of the private sector and international organizations," he said.
That's just what Swita, 18, a student at Aisha-e-Durani High School, would like to see.
"We want to have many green parks in our country and then our families can use them together," she said.
"We want parks all around Kabul city [so that] families [can] spend their weekends far from the city crowd," she said.
Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an independent reporter in Kabul.
Russian antidrugs agency plans Kabul office to stamp out trafficking
Moscow - The Russian Federal Service for Drugs Trade Control plans to open an office in Afghanistan.
"We are holding negotiations on opening a representative office for our service in Kabul. I believe it could start work this year," Police Gen Viktor Cherkesov, the director of the service, told Interfax on Thursday [29 April].
"Over half of the drugs illegally circulated in Russia originate from abroad. The majority of them, primarily heroin, come from Afghanistan. In fact, we are dealing with drug aggression," Cherkesov said.
The relevant Afghan and Russian agencies are creating a legal basis to organize the work of the Russian drug control service's office in Kabul.
"The purpose is to arrange active interaction with Afghan law-enforcement agencies to efficiently discover and curb the flow of drugs coming from that country," Cherkesov said. "It is important for us to discover the established links between the local drug producing groups, which control the production and the drug smuggling from Afghanistan, and our criminal groups. This would in turn help us find out who is behind the transfer of drugs from Afghanistan to Central Asia, Russia and Europe," he said.
The drug threat emanating from Afghanistan "will have to be fought for years," Cherkesov said. "See for yourself: Afghan producers produced 340 tonnes of heroin in 2002 and 360 t in 2003, and international experts believe 50-80 per cent more heroin will be produced in 2004," he said.
Sesame Street goes to Afghanistan
From correspondents in Los Angeles 30apr04 Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia
ELMO, Cookie Monster and the rest of the Sesame Street gang will help Afghan teachers educate their students, many of whom have never been in a classroom.
About 400 kits will soon be distributed in Afghanistan. They include 10 videotapes, each with a 20-minute episode of Koche Sesame, the Afghan version of Sesame Street, a teachers' handbook, a poster and school supplies.
Children will see a dubbed version of the Egyptian Sesame Street - called Alam Simsim - with some material from the United States, said Beatrice Chow of the Sesame Workshop.
The kits have been provided by the Sesame Workshop, the show's non-profit educational arm, and the RAND Corp., a non-profit think-tank based in Santa Monica, California.
"Because of the Taliban's repressive regime, a large majority of Afghan children have little or no educational background," said Cheryl Benard, who heads RAND's portion of the project.
"This material has been assembled specifically to address the needs of a post-conflict society."
RAND and the Sesame Workshop got help from Afghanistan's Ministry of Information and Culture, Afghan teachers and media groups and Afghan-Americans in selecting material for Afghan children.
"We are very pleased with this gift," said Sekander Giyam, adviser to the Afghan minister of education. "We need our children to have their eyes and their minds opened to new ideas," he said.
The videos will be also shown in women's centers, orphanages, children's centres and in specially equipped travelling vans.
Episodes will be broadcast on national and provincial television, but few Afghan families have television sets.
The episodes help teachers with instruction, foster awareness of other cultures, highlight opportunities for women and increase student interest in education and careers.
It is funded, in part, by Qatar, which is helping rebuild Afghanistan.
Special Police Force Formed to Protect Historical Sites
RFE/RL 04/29/2004 By Amin Tarzi
The Afghan Interior Ministry has formed a special police force to protect the country's historical sites, Afghanistan Television reported on 28 April. Major General Mohammad Harun Asefi, a police commander, said that initially 84 officers will be deployed to "protect historical sites in Logar and Kapisa provinces" near Kabul.
The plan is to increase the strength of the force to 500 officers and expand its area of operation, Asefi added. The geographical area of modern Afghanistan is home to numerous Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic historical sites. Some of these sites have been excavated. In the past 25 years, much of Afghanistan's historical treasures have either been stolen or destroyed in the name of religion.
Whatever It Takes to Outwit the Taliban
By PETER M. NICHOLS The New York Times
In a talk accompanying his film "Osama," available today from MGM, the Afghan director Siddiq Barmak says that at first he resisted a scholarship to learn movie making in Russia because of the Soviet invasion of his homeland. But the urge to study prevailed, and later he came across a story about a girl in Kabul who disguised herself as a boy so she could go to school under the noses of the Taliban.
In "Osama," the first feature film made in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in 1996, Marina Golbahari plays a girl whose hair is cut short by her mother so she can go forth as a boy, Osama, to earn an income and keep her family from starving.
A Western journalist (male) caught paying a few $1 bills to film a women's revolt is instantly executed by a firing squad. A woman pronounced guilty of profanity is stoned to death. Eventually caught herself, Osama is spared but is subjected to a particularly devastating humiliation.
Mr. Barmak cast Afghan children still fearful of the Taliban. For Ms. Golbahari, he says, the penalty of life under such circumstances is reflected in her eyes. In Afghanistan, he adds, everything has been destroyed, including the mentality of the people.
Like Roman Polanski's "Pianist," the film "Osama," A. O. Scott wrote in The New York Times, "is a meticulous and beautifully made inquiry into the ways that ideological evil can infect, and ultimately destroy, the intimacies and small pleasures of daily life." 2004. $29.98. 82 minutes. Dari Farsi with English subtitles. No rating.
Ask Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) if he has seen an iceberg and he's likely to spin a yarn that would make Shackleton blush. As a younger man (played by Ewan McGregor), Bloom emerged as a teller of tall tales about all the wondrous things he's seen and done.
By the end of his life in Tim Burton's "Big Fish," released today by Columbia TriStar, his compulsive overblown storytelling has become an embarrassment for his painfully repressed and literal-minded son (Billy Crudup).
In a commentary and various featurettes Mr. Burton tries to energize his own fantastical creation, but the odd thing about the film, Mr. Scott wrote in The Times, "is how unpersuasive and ultimately forgettable even its most strenuous inventions turn out to be."
Like any good trouper on a DVD, Mr. McGregor is enthusiastic about Mr. Burton and the movie. Mr. Burton's commentary is in the form of an interview. Unlike Ed Bloom, he says, he has always been trashed for not being able to tell stories. He's primarily interested in ways to tell stories.
He and others dip into the tricky nature of father-son relationships, but like the film, the discussion never goes beyond the banal. His own relations with his father were nonverbal, he says. The Burton family, he adds, communicated with icy stares across the table. 2003. $28.95. 110 minutes. PG-13.
"They told me you were a stickler for the old ways, but a cooler?" a corporate casino type asks Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) in Wayne Kramer's film, released today by Lions Gate.
A very tough operator, Shelly runs his Las Vegas establishment as if Frank Sinatra were still onstage. The cooler is a sad little loser named Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) whose job it is to sidle up beside big winners at the tables and just stand there. Explaining his function, he says, "People get next to me, and their luck changes."
Then for some reason Bernie attracts Natalie (Maria Bello), a warm and voluptuous cocktail waitress. A happier, more confident cooler doesn't perform as effectively on the job, but Bernie can't help glowing with success. In a Sundance Channel documentary, a costume designer says that the Macy character's suits became progressively better fitting as he began to feel more positively about himself.
Mr. Kramer and others talk routinely about the movie in two commentaries. The performances by Mr. Baldwin, nominated for an Academy Award, and Mr. Macy are its strengths.
"Luckily this picture is rescued from cliché by the quality of the acting," Mr. Scott wrote in The Times, "and Mr. Kramer wisely gives the actors room to work." 2003. $26.98. 103 minutes. R.
'Stuck on You'
In featurettes with the latest Farrelly Brothers film, available today from Fox, Jim Carrey, Jason Alexander, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Renée Zellweger and others talk about working on past Farrelly ventures. The brothers, Bobby and Peter, take over in a commentary, emerging as sane types — serious even.
In "Stuck on You,"Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear play conjoined twins. For most of the movie the Farrellys point out favorite bit players and friends from around Boston and Rhode Island, many of Irish derivation, who typically populate their films. As for directorial technique, they keep a loose set, the better to let the actors take chances in a "chewy but minor comedy," Elvis Mitchell wrote in The Times. 2003. $27.98. 100 minutes. PG-13.
Lon Chaney Jr. was a plumbing contractor before becoming an actor. (The senior Chaney insisted that his son go into business.) Such asides and much analysis abound in three two-disk sets of monster movies released today in new editions by Universal.
Dracula occupies the first set: Tod Browning's 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi (with a score composed in the late 1990's by Philip Glass); the Spanish-language "Dracula" filmed at the same time; "Dracula's Daughter" ; "Son of Dracula"; and "House of Dracula."
James Whale's "Frankenstein" (1931), with Boris Karloff, leads the second set, followed by Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein," "Son of Frankenstein," "The Ghost of Frankenstein" and "House of Frankenstein." In the third set Chaney holds forth in "The Wolf Man" and "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man."
All the old monster flicks, it turns out, are a promotion for Stephen Sommers's "Van Helsing,"to be released in theaters May 7, and behind-the-scenes material from that movie makes jarring intrusions from time to time. The senior productions are $26.98 a set.
Valuable Farmlands Washed Away
The Amu Darya River has long displaced farmers when it surges over its banks, but the problem seems to be getting worse
The chronic flooding of the Amu Darya River, which separates Afghanistan from Uzbekistan, has in recent months displaced hundreds of families and washed away some of the most fertile land in this northern region.
Thousands of sandbags are being used in an attempt to keep the waterway within its banks. The surging waters have so far claimed numerous houses and farmland in the Shortepa district.
Officials in Shortepa, which lies 125 kilometres northeast of Mazar-e-Sharif, blamed deforestation and stepped-up patrols by Uzbek police boats for the weakening of the sandy bank on the Afghan side of the river, allowing the river to overflow and costing Afghanistan acres of precious land.
"I think if serious action is not taken to stop these overflows, Shortepa district will disappear in the coming years," said Shortepa Governor Abdul Satar.
When the flooding was at its worst this winter, some 500 families in eight villages were forced to flee their homes. Many went to Mazar or stayed with friends and relatives elsewhere in the district, said Khal Morad, a Loya Jirga delegate from the border district.
"We have become internally displaced people within our own district," said Mohammad Sadiq, who lost his house. "Our homes and lands were badly destroyed."
In February, the British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar donated 8,500 US dollars for 50,000 sandbags and 4,000 litres of fuel to build a dam to stop the overflow.
"We realize that those people need help. They are in trouble," said Major Lance Ball, a US liaison officer to the British team. He added that stopping the flooding and soil erosion in Shortepa is "a long-term project".
Villagers are now using tractors and their bare hands to build a dam at a fork in the river in hopes of diverting the water away from the flooded areas, Morad said.
So far they have filled about 28,000 bags with sand and sticky red clay and built a dam about 60 metres long - a third of the river's width - and two metres above the surface of the water. Bushes and tree limbs are being used to fortify the sandbags.
Shafaq, a local non-governmental organization, brought the bags and fuel to Shortepa. The United Nations World Food Program will provide food for 50 families who are helping to build the dam, said Engineer Abdul Baasit, head of the rural rehabilitation and development ministry in Mazar, which is overseeing the work.
Although Baasit said the dam appears to be holding for now, officials emphasised that it is only a stopgap measure.
Flooding has been a fact of life for so long in Shortepa that it has woven its way into local legend.
People say that the hill from which the district takes its name -Shortepa means salt hill in Dari - was covered with water decades ago and now sits in the middle of the river. Another smaller hill was nearly cut off from the mainland in the recent flooding.
The district is 120 kilometres long and in some places as little as 1 kilometre wide. Its entire length runs alongside the Amu Darya, and some of its most fertile agricultural land is at the river's edge.
Ninety percent of the land destroyed in the most recent flooding was farmland, Morad said. He estimated that as many as 200 hectares of agricultural land were covered with water.
"In some areas the riverbank has moved two kilometres, in some areas seven kilometres," he said.
Morad said the problem had become worse in recent years because people in the district have been cutting down trees, weakening the riverbank. On the Uzbek side, no one is allowed to remove trees and there are concrete walls along the riverbank to stop erosion, he said.
But Satar blamed the recent flooding on the increasing number of Uzbek security boats on the river. While the riverbank has been collapsing for decades, Satar said the pace has sped up over the last two years as the number of patrols hunting down refugees and drug runners increased.
Col. Juma Gildi, the commander of Afghanistan's 7th Boundary Police Force, visited Uzbekistan last month with delegates from Shortepa and Kaldar, another Afghan border district, to discuss the flooding. Gildi said that the Uzbek riverbank has also been damaged but because the Afghan bank is more sandy, the damage on its side has been more severe.
"The Uzbek authorities are aware of the problem, and they felt sorry," Gildi said. He said Uzbek officials promised to reduce the number of patrols on the river.
Morad agreed that the Uzbek patrols were contributing to the flooding problem but doubted that they were the primary cause. After all, he noted, much larger ships, with much more powerful wakes, had plied the river for years.
"We cannot blame ships entirely," Morad said. "A decade ago, there were large ships [carrying 5,000 tonnes of cargo on the river.] That's not happening at all anymore."
Shafiullah Noorzada is an independent journalist in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Ex-NFL player Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, promoted posthumously
BETH DeFALCO, Associated Press Writer Thursday, April 29, 2004
(04-29) 19:04 PDT PHOENIX (AP) -- Pat Tillman, a former NFL player killed while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, was promoted posthumously from specialist to corporal, an Army spokeswoman said Thursday.
"The Army always notes that rank and promotion are not a reward of what was done well, but a recognition that you have the potential to do more," said Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd. "This promotion is essentially saying he would have been a fine leader."
Tillman, who walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army in 2002, was killed April 22 when the Army patrol was ambushed near the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The promotion for Tillman was lateral, Rudd said, and will not affect any benefits his family receives. Both ranks are E4, or the fourth rank available for enlisted soldiers.
Although Tillman never publicly offered reasons for his decision, several friends have said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks affected him deeply.
Tillman was the first NFL player killed in combat since Buffalo offensive tackle Bob Kalsu died in the Vietnam War in July 1970. Nineteen NFL players were killed in World War II.
The Cardinals have said they will retire Tillman's No. 40 and name the plaza surrounding the team's new stadium in suburban Glendale the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza."
The University of Massachsetts campus in Amherst, meanwhile, has been roiled by a student's newspaper column that said Tillman was not a hero but rather a "G.I. Joe guy who got what was coming to him." Graduate student Rene Gonzalez also criticized America's military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
UMass president Jack Wilson issued a statement saying the comments in The Daily Collegian on Wednesday were "a disgusting, arrogant and intellectually immature attack on a human being who died in service to his country."
Gonzalez did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages left Thursday by The Associated Press, but in an e-mail to WBZ-TV he apologized to the Tillman family "for all the pain that my article has brought them."
"I felt that his celebrity had been a factor in American society calling him a 'hero,' and I felt American society had arrived at that conclusion without much thinking, but rather as some sort of patriotic 'knee-jerk' into hero worship," he wrote. "That was my point. I did it (admittedly) in such an insensitive way, that the article was not worth publishing."
The newspaper's editorial board ran a letter to readers in Thursday's edition saying Gonzalez's views do not reflect The Collegian's opinion.
Afghan rag trade boss fights deportation order
Enfield and Haringey Independent, UK 04/29/2004
AN AFGHAN asylum seeker who has risen to become a partner at a dressmaking firm has made an emotional appeal to the Government to let him stay in the UK.
Reza Zahidy, 28, of Betstyle Road, New Southgate, says he has not claimed a penny in state benefits since he came to Britain five years ago. Instead he has worked as a dressmaker at Frances Couture in Manor Park Gardens, Edgware and proved so valuable to the firm that owner Frances Bennett made him a partner last Christmas.
But despite representations from Enfield Southgate MP Stephen Twigg and his business partner, Mr Zahidy's asylum application has been rejected by the Government.
Last Friday, Mr Zahidy was taken into detention as he signed a weekly register at an immigration centre in Old Street and he has been told he will be put on a flight to Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Speaking from Harmondsworth Detention Centre near Heathrow Airport, Mr Zahidy said: "There are people who are getting away with things they get their benefit and sit at home. It's ridiculous and it is as an asylum seeker that I am saying this.
"I have not claimed a penny from the state. I like my skill and my job and I want to give it to people. In five years I have started to run a business and become an employer."
Like many Afghans, Mr Zahidy left Afghanistan after September 11. His family had been killed in fighting before the Americans and British began bombing the country. He has since converted to Christianity.
Mr Twigg has written to the Home Office on his behalf. A spokesman for Mr Twigg said: "We feel he should be allowed to stay. He has no links with Afghanistan anymore and he is creating employment here and contributing generally."
Mr Zahidy's business partner Frances Bennett also urged the Home Office not to strip Mr Zahidy of his right to remain.
"He wants to do everything legally. He is talented and enthusiastic and he should be allowed to stay," she said.
Mr Zahidy said there is nothing for him back in Afghanistan. "No one is waiting for me there. I am now a Christian how can I go back?" he said.
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