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May 30, 2005

Bomb aimed at NATO peacekeepers wounds seven Afghans
Mon May 30, 5:16 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A bicycle bomb targeting a     NATO-led vehicle exploded near Kabul, wounding at least seven Afghans, hours after a rocket was fired at the peacekeeping force's headquarters in the capital, officials said.

The twin attacks, which caused no casualties among members of the 8,300-strong International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Kabul.

The remote-controlled bomb was set on a bicycle left on the side of the main road from Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad and detonated at about 9:30am (0500 GMT), district police chief Mohammed Akbar told AFP on Monday.

"Seven people were injured, some of them seriously: four were in a taxi passing by, three were pedestrians," Akbar said. "The taxi driver was seriously injured and was taken to hospital."

At the scene, where ISAF patrols pass almost every hour, pieces of metal, the remains of the blown up bicycle and the partially destroyed taxi could be seen.

"The target was obviously the ISAF patrols or aimed at creating an atmosphere of violence in the city," Akbar added.

Interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal confirmed the blast in the Hod Qhail neigborhood east of Kabul targeted an ISAF vehicle. "It was aimed at an ISAF vehicle, but missed it and struck a taxi and pedestrians passing by."

The force's spokesman Lieutenant Karen Tissot van Patot told AFP no peacekeepers were injured in the blast. She said it happened nine kilometres (six miles) east of the capital but gave no other details.

Around eight hours earlier a rocket shook the ISAF headquarters in central Kabul, although no one was injured in the incident.

"It impacted a military barracks accommodation," van Patot said. "There were no injuries, and little damage to the building. An investigation team is currently working on this explosion."

No one claimed responsibility for either of the attacks on Monday.

However     Afghanistan's ousted Islamic hardline Taliban militia has stepped up violence elsewhere in the country during the past month and security has also deteriorated in Kabul.

An Italian aid worker who was dragged from her car in the capital by armed gunmen two weeks ago appeared on a video aired by an Afghan television network on Sunday.

Clementina Cantoni, 32, was shown wrapped in a blanket and with two armed men with their faces covered pointing guns at her head.

Earlier this month three people including an engineer from Myanmar who was working for the     United Nations were killed in a bombing at an Internet cafe in Kabul.

A car bomb exploded in April in Kabul without causing any casualties, while in late March a bomb blast which went off near the ISAF camp hit a Canadian diplomatic car, injuring four people including a Canadian.

The incidents have prompted the estimated 3,000 foreign nationals in Kabul to observe a strict curfew and avoid all unnecessary movement around the city.

Resentment against foreigners has also spiralled with Afghanistan earlier this month experiencing the worst anti-US protests since the fall of the Taliban.

At least 15 people were killed in a wave of demonstrations against an Newsweek report, which the magazine later retracted, that the US military in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba had desecrated copies of the Koran.

15 injured as protests rock Takhar district
By  Abdul Mateen Sarfraz 
TALUQAN, May 30 (Pajhwok Afghan News): As many as 15 people were reported wounded in violent demonstrations that rocked Rustaq district of the northern Takhar province earlier in the week.

However, provincial authorities said five protestors were wounded while the Interior Ministry spokesmen in Kabul said only three people received injuries in the demonstrations.

The protests flared up on Sunday when an angry mob comprising students and teachers clashed with supporters of Commander Peram Qul following the transfer of an education department official.

Residents of the area said 15 people were injured during the last two days. The protestors were demanding of the district administration to stop supporting the present education officer of the district and let a new officer appointed by the Ministry of Education in Kabul replace him.

Takhar Governor Abdul Kabir Marzban said Sunday's demonstration was largely peaceful and the five people were injured on Monday when supporters of Peram Qul pelted the protestors with stones and baton-charged them.

The demonstrators accused administrative district chief Dr Faizullah and Commander Peram Qul of nepotism. They went on to allege Dr Faizullah had dismissed several qualified and experienced headmasters and teachers from their services.

The angry mob also demanded the removal of Commander Peram Qul, whom they said was a Jamiat-i-Islami loyalist. They said all schools in the district had been closed for the last three days while the commander, the district chief and the education officer left the area.

On the other hand, the governor rejected the protestors' statement and said only a few schools were closed.

Mohammad Younus Abrar, another eyewitness, said the people were injured when backers of the present and the new education officers clashed.

Meanwhile, a high-level delegation was dispatched to the area to defuse the tension and launch an inquiry into the matter. This is the second delegation sent there by the Interior Ministry since the trouble started.

One dead, two wounded in mine blast in southern Afghanistan
KABUL, May 29 (AFP) - A civilian was killed and two others were wounded when their van ran over a landmine planted on a highway linking Spin Boldak and Arghistan districts of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, officials said Sunday.

"I think it was a new mine planted by the Taliban," local border commander Abdul Raziq told AFP.

He said police had started investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, on Friday 12 civilians were killed in eastern Kunar province in an ambush by unidentified gunmen.

Three Afghan army soldiers were also wounded in Kunar's capital Asad Abad in a grenade explosion.

Attacks by the Taliban, whose ultra-conservative regime was toppled by a US-led invasion in late 2001, have increased on Afghan and foreign troops, aid groups and construction workers in the past month.

Three years after their ouster, Taliban-linked rebels continue to wage a hit-and-run guerrilla campaign in the restive south and east of Afghanistan, where the majority of the 18,000-strong US-led coalition forces are stationed to battle the insurgency.

Maulvi Fayyaz murder: 50 suspects rounded up
By  Saeed Zabuli 
KANDAHAR CITY, May 30 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Around 50 suspects have been rounded up in connection with Kandahar Ulema Council chief Maulvi Abdullah Fayyaz's murder.

Provincial security officials said on Monday they were trying to track down the real culprits and drag them to court. The slaying was being probed on a fast-track basis, they added.

Kandahar intelligence head Gen. Salim Ehsas, speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, said: "Hitherto we have arrested some 50 suspected people for grilling while investigations are going apace."

Gen. Ayub Salangi, provincial police chief, informed this scribe Maulvi Fayyaz's assassins were still at large as law-enforcers were trying to bring them to justice at the earliest possible.

Soon after the incident vehemently denounced by President Hamid Karzai as a cowardly act, Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi had claimed responsibility for the killing of the leading religious scholar.

Just a week earlier, Taliban had threatened to kill ulema drumming support for the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for September 18.

Maulvi Fayyaz (54), the eldest son of renowned scholar Maulvi Abdul Rab Akhunzada, had lent his weight to the US-backed government led by President Hamid Karzai.

The man, who invited 500 ulema from 20 provinces of the country to a meeting in Kandahar one week back to pledge support to the incumbent government, had launched an FM radio called the "Voice of Islam."

Translated and edited by Mudassir

US bases threatens no country: Afghanistan
KABUL, May 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Karzai government, stoutly defending a recent accord on strategic partnership with the United States as a major gain, assured on Saturday it posed no threat to its neighbours.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Naveed Ahmad Maiz, speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, rejected as unfounded Iran's concern that permanent US bases in Afghanistan would threaten peace in the region.

Maiz was commenting on the statement of Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Aseffi, who feared that long-term American military presence in Afghanistan could impinge on the stability of neighbouring countries.

"Permanent US bases here are part of the strategic partnership agreement we have inked with America, which we urge to extend us multidimensional cooperation - in economic, defence, security and political spheres," Maiz added.

He reiterated no country should view such cooperation as a threat, because the strategic partnership was aimed at bolstering Afghanistan's internal security and economy hit by a quarter-century of war.

The spokesman maintained the presence of American and coalition forces was badly needed for restoring peace to Afghanistan "until our security forces become self-reliant."

While counting the advantages of stepped-up relations with the world's sole superpower, Maiz claimed a series of pacts President Karzai concluded with his American counterpart would stone-wall foreign meddling in the country.

Hekmatyar calls Afghan-US strategic pact a sell-out
PESHAWAR, May 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan's former prime minister and Hezb-i-Islami chief Gulbadin Hekmatyar Sunday denounced the long-term strategic agreement signed with the United States.

Dead-set against foreign military presence in the landlocked country and seen as America's implacable foe, Hekmatyar likened the pact to selling Afghanistan to the United States.
In a letter bearing his signature, the one-time Afghan strongman demanded of the US and its allies to leave the country forthwith and let Afghans resolve their disputes in line with their own traditions.

Pajhwok Afghan News obtained a copy of the letter - written in Pashto and apparently delivered from inside Afghanistan - in Peshawar, NWFP. "Afghanistan is home to a brave people and foreigners should stop thinking of occupying it for a long time," he observed, asking aliens to learn a lesson from the former Soviet Union's misadventure.

In hiding to dodge arrest at the hands of US-led coalition forces, Hekmatyar insisted Afghans alone had the right to enter strategic agreements with the rest of the world. The Hezb leader claimed he still enjoyed widespread support of the Afghan people. Urging his compatriots to launch a struggle against 'occupation forces,' he remarked the country was passing through a critical phase of its existence.

His letter comes at a time when a number of Hezb-i-Islami commanders in southern and southeastern provinces have accepted the government's offer to join the reconciliation process. President Hamid Karzai, during his visit to the United States last week, signed the long-term strategic agreement with his American counterpart.

TV crew, Marines escape IED attack
May 29, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Rick Scavetta Combined Joint Task Force-76 Public Affairs Office
ALISHING VALLEY, Afghanistan – A squad from “Kilo” Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment supporting Operation Celtics in this rugged terrain northwest of Jalalabad narrowly escaped the blast of an improvised explosive device May 23.

Insurgents detonated two 107 mm rockets buried in the dirt roadway by remote control. A television camera crew from NBC Nightly News was aboard the Humvee that was hit. But the blast struck just in front of the Humvee, sending a plume of smoke and debris several feet in the air.

“I saw a flash and the dirt rise up,” said Lance Cpl. Clinton Jones, the Humvee driver. “A second later, I heard the boom. It was so loud, I went deaf.”

Jones, 20, of Flagstaff, Ariz., drove through the blast, then slammed on the brakes. Sand and rocks rained down upon the Marines and newsmen riding in the rear of the open-top vehicle.

Cpl. John Pollander, 23, of Cambridge, Mass., leapt from the passenger seat shouting orders for the Marines to dismount, fan out and provide security. The Marines feared the IED was the start of a larger ambush, a tactic used by insurgents in previous attacks.

Before the dust settled, Navy Corpsman Ron Peller, 22, of Tampa Bay, Fla., raced down the rocky path to check for casualties. Peller thought the worst, he said.

“I was in the vehicle just behind,” Peller said. “After the bang, all I saw was a dark cloud rising up.”

Jumping from the Humvee, NBC News correspondent Ron Allen and his crewmen Craig White and Bob Lapp began taping the aftermath. Marines checked their bodies for injuries -- miraculously, no one was hurt. Shrapnel had nicked White, sending a trickle of blood down his neck.

Within moments, Marines crept upon craggy hillsides toward a cluster of mud and stone huts. Staring down the sights of their assault rifles, the Marines searched each Afghan house in the area.

From roughly two kilometers away, Marine snipers fixed their scopes on the area. That platoon was also expecting an enemy ambush and had called for air support. Air Force A-10 jet fighters circled overhead as the search continued. At one point, an A-10 pilot swept low through the valley firing flares as a show of force. But the enemy slipped away as night fell over Laghman Province.

The squad of Marines and journalists hunkered down on a nearby knoll as storm clouds approached. Rain, wind and hail bombarded the troops standing watch throughout the night.

By morning, reinforcements had arrived: 2nd Platoon, Company K, who had been watching the attack from their patrol base in the mountains to the north.

Marines have been operating in the area for several weeks, chasing down a Taliban warlord named Abdulah Jan. The insurgent leader, known to locals as “Pashtun,” was behind the firefight that lead to the deaths of two Company K Marines on May 8. Lance Cpl. Nicholas C. Kirven and Cpl. Richard P. Schoener were killed during a mountain battle that lasted several hours and also left several dozen insurgents dead.

Fellow Marines carried their fallen comrades several miles through the hills to a helicopter landing zone overlooking the Alishing river – just a few hundred meters from the site of the IED attack.

As the sun crept over the mountain peaks, drying out the tired troops, Marines launched across the Alishing’s turbulent waters to a string of Afghan huts on the opposite bank – likely the insurgents’ hiding place during the previous night’s attack. The NBC News crew documented the mission.

They found a set of reinforced caves along a slope outside the village. Inside the village, they discovered a few old mortar rounds and some 12.7 mm machine-gun rounds. A large white dog that charged toward one Marine was shot and killed.

But there was no sign of the enemy who detonated the IED. From the village Marines could see the spot on the road where the bomb exploded. It was marked by a large boulder, an obvious landmark for the culprit to know when and where to detonate the buried rockets.

Afghan interpreters questioned several villagers, all of whom claimed to know little about insurgents operating in the area. Meanwhile, it was clear to Marines that the villagers were expecting a search.

“They unlocked all the doors and removed things before we got here. We’ve seen that before,” said Cpl. Matt Carr, 27, of Pittsburgh, Penn. “They knew we would be coming.”

Over 600 women to contest male candidates in Afghan parliamentary elections
KABUL, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Over 600 women have presented their nominations to contest aspirant men candidates in the post-Taliban Afghanistan's first parliamentary polls, Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Commissioner Najla Ayubi said Sunday.

"The turnout of women, who make up slightly more than 10 percent of candidates, is extremely favorable. The JEMB welcomes our sisters who have taken up the challenge to make sure the voices of Afghan women are heard in the male-dominated elections," Mrs. Ayubi said at a press conference.

Out of 2,915 Afghans offered their nominations for Wolesi Jirgaor lower house, 347 are women, while 279 women nominated for the Provincial Councils where 2,891 men have stood for.

"This is a very positive outcome, achieved in a short time frame and under challenging security conditions," Commissioner Ayubi pointed out.

Members of Provincials would elect the members of Mushrano Jirga or upper house of the coming parliament.

Sixty-eight seats have been allocated for women in the 249-seatWolesi Jirga. However in five troubled provinces where Taliban militants are active, the turnout of women is too low to meet the reserved seats.

No woman even have dared to register her candidacy in Uruzgan, the home province of Taliban's leader Mullah Omar during the 26-day nomination period ended on May 26.

Preliminary candidates list will be released on June 4 while the final candidates list will be published on July 12.

Taliban's movement whose remnants have threatened to derail thecoming Sept. 18 elections, had confined women to their houses and banned school girls during its six-year reign in 90 percent of the country, and was finally toppled by US invasion in late 2001.

Khalilzad's departure seen as detrimental to Afghanistan
By  Najib Khilwatgar 
KABUL, May 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Analysts here believe replacing Zalmay Khalilzad as US ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan will not do any good to the country. He has been working as the US special envoy to Kabul since 2003.

Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, leader of the Democratic Party Abdul Kabir Ranjbar said on Sunday being an Afghan Khalilzad enjoyed a great deal of clout with politicians and resolved political problems by using his personal links.

He argued one of the merits his predecessor would certainly lack was his grasp of local languages, customs and traditions in addition to influence.

Abdul Hamid Mubarez, former deputy minister for information and culture, appreciated Khalilzad's flair patching up disputes among politicians.

He referred to the removal of differences between Ismail Khan, former governor of Herat, and Commander Amanullah in Shindad district. "But the change will not affect US ties with Afghanistan as the former's policies don't turn on personalities," Mubarez concluded.

Ahmad Shah, a resident of Kabul city, evinced a little interest in the coming and going of ambassadors. "All of them have their own axe to grind. No one cares for the common man."

According to some media reports, the US has nominated Algerian Ronald Newmann as its new envoy to Afghanistan replacing Dr Zalmay Khalilzad. Newmann has also served as US consul general in Iraq.

PRT members attend historic shura in Baghran District
May 29, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell Combined Task Force Bayonet Public Affairs
BAGHRAN, Afghanistan – Members of the Lashkar Gah Provincial Reconstruction Team attended a historic shura May 24 in the village of Baghran in northern Helmand Province.

Baghran is also the hometown of former prominent Taliban leader Abdul Rahid, known as Rais Baghrani. Baghrani is a recent participant in the Strengthening Peace program sponsored by the Afghanistan government that brings insurgents back into society. Baghrani now plans to run for a parliament seat in the upcoming elections.

It was the first time PRT members had been to the district and they were there at the request of the 100 Bughran District elders who were in attendance. All were interested in bringing reconstruction efforts to the remote district.

Many concerns were brought to light by the district elders during the meeting: a reliable and clean water supply, jobs, electric power for the village, communications, the building of a new mosque and the fact that most farmers are still feeling the ramifications of the recent drought.

Members of the Lashkar Gah PRT are excited at the opportunity and are sure they can help.

“To be invited here is a major breakthrough,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Hogburg, commander of the Lashkar Gah PRT.

U.S. Army Capt. Dan Glanz, the team’s civil affairs officer, agrees.

“The Bughran District is known for being on its own. We hope this meeting will help bring it into the province,” said Glanz.

All of the district and village elders concerns were addressed during the meeting. Glanz said some will be fairly easy to start right away, possibly including a new school. “The current school is a mud structure and in a poor state of repair.”

While the school project and a new health clinic may be part of some long-term goals, immediate aid was given during the visit. “We had a civil-assistance air drop,” Glanz said. “It included 10 pallets of food, water, blankets, school supplies and tools. It was a gesture to say that we want to help.”

Once the PRT becomes active in the district, there will be side benefits to the projects that aren’t as obvious but are just as important, Glanz said. “The contractors will employ a lot of people and put some money into the local economy. It will also show that the governments of Afghanistan and Helmand Province want to help and that the people in this district are not out here by themselves. This is not about America, this about Afghans helping themselves.”

PRT members expressed concerns during the shura, the most pressing being security. As there is no large American or Afghan military presence in this part of the province, security will have to be provided and ensured by the local elders.

Baghrani was quick to address the issue and made strong assurances to the members present.

“Security cannot be provided by one person. It will take everybody,” said Baghrani. “If someone gets hurt in Baghran, it is everyone’s responsibility. We are promising these people that we will help provide security while they help us.”

Baghrani continued during his speech to emphasize the importance of reconstruction beginning in the Bughran district.

“Reconstruction is now my jihad. It is now part of my Islamic law,” said Baghrani. “Everybody’s job is reconstruction. Everyone should work together. That’s how we fought the Russians; now we must fight for reconstruction.

Marines return to Tora Bora for Operation Celtics
May 28, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By Sgt. 1st Class Rick Scavetta Combined Joint Task Force-76 Public Affairs Office
JALALABAD, Afghanistan – When the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment ventured into the Tora Bora mountains recently to hunt down enemy fighters, they instead found Afghans eager for a brighter future.

The mission, dubbed Operation Celtics, began as an offensive in an enemy sanctuary – the rugged mountains of Nangahar Province that stretch along the Pakistan border.

It was one of several missions launched this week by Coalition troops to locate insurgents. Afghan National Army soldiers took part in the operations. “Lima” Company Marines were prepared for a fight, but found themselves sipping tea with village elders.

In the first few days of the operation, the Marines distributed roughly eight tons of civic aid. And not a shot was fired.

“It’s a sign of success that we’re not getting shot at,” said Capt. Eric Kelly, Company L commander.

Insurgents operating in the area would likely rely upon local villagers for support while transiting through the high-altitude passes, Kelly said. Marines patrolled into remote villages, set up security and talked with locals to assess their needs and gain information on enemy activity.

Keying the radio, Kelly called to 3/3 headquarters at Jalalabad Airfield, where aviation assets from the U.S. Army’s Company F, 3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment – known to troops as “Big Windy” – were on standby to airlift bundles of civic aid.

Within minutes, Marines heard the heavy thud-a-thud of the CH-47 Chinook echoing through the valley. A U.S. Air Force controller working with the Marines popped a canister of green smoke to mark the landing zone and talked to the approaching Army pilot. Marines rushed into the blowing dust to pull bundles of supplies off the helicopter’s back ramp.

“When fighting an insurgency, the way to win is to get the people on your side,” said 1st Lt. J.P. Sienicki, 25, of Long Valley, N.J. “When you’re handing out food and blankets to help people in this rugged, austere landscape, you’re helping out on the most personal level.”

Security during the mission was key, said Sienicki, Lima’s weapons platoon commander. The Marines were “set up for success” by having Air Force A-10 jet fighters overhead during the mission’s initial stage, he said. A platoon from the Afghan National Army marched alongside the Marines, contributing to interaction with the locals and establishing perimeter security when the troops stopped near villages.

“If our Army works hard with the Americans and gets back on its feet, then we will no longer need the U.S. for support,” said Janet Ghul,an Afghan soldier from Chapahar Province.

Ghul and his fellow Afghan troops use their knowledge of the local culture to assess progress during the military operations. Ghul recalled how the Russian soldiers stormed his home and killed his father. The Coalition forces’ approach makes Afghans feel more comfortable, he said.

“Before they did not like foreigners,” Ghul said. “Now they see [the U.S.] building the country and they are happy.”

On a ridge overlooking the Pachir Agam valley, Marines set up camp outside the Gerakhil Primary school, a 12-room edifice built in 2004 by a U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team. About 700 local boys who once studied out in the open now have furnished classrooms, said Capt. Michael Greer, 35, an Army Reserve officer from the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion.

“You build a school and you make people choose,” Greer said. “It’s either help from the Afghan government and its Coalition allies or supporting the bad guys.”

Nearby, Afghan villagers clustered around the helicopter landing zone. Sgt. Joshua Allison, 23, of Stroudsburg, Penn., spent the afternoon of his 23rd birthday loading the arms of Afghan boys with bundles of blankets, rugs, food and medicine. In the village, Navy Corpsman Daniel Mayberry, 21, of Gaithersburg, Md., began treating ailments and injuries in a makeshift clinic.

“We’re trying to better this country’s problems and let them know we care,” Mayberry said. “The local people are trying to get on with their everyday lives and there’s people – Taliban and Al Qaeda – threatening their lives. If we show them that we’re here to help, they may tell us where’s the bad guys with the weapons.”

Gaining the locals’ trust is the only way to get their support, said Cpl. Stephen Patterson, 22, of Conyers, Ga.

Patterson often mans a 60 mm mortar on Marine firebases. But when he gets out on patrols, he sees the Afghanistan’s future in the droves of children who swarm around Marines.

“There’s something about kids,” Patterson said. “Their parents saw what other foreign armies did here, but the kids are exposed to the way we are doing things. Maybe they can tell their parents about what we’re doing and remember what we’ve done for them.”

Tribal elder killed in troubled Pakistan region
WANA, Pakistan, May 29 (Reuters) - Gunmen killed a pro-government tribal elder in Pakistan's troubled tribal region on Sunday, a day after he met journalists on a trip arranged by the army to show the area had been cleared of militants.

Witnesses said unidentified assailants ambushed the car of former lawmaker Faridullah Khan Wazir close to the Afghan border near Jandola, about 60 km (35 miles) east of South Waziristan's main town of Wana.

Wazir, his driver and a guard were killed on the spot.

Major-General Niaz Khattak, commander of Pakistani forces in South Waziristan, told reporters on Saturday around 100 foreign militants were hiding in the long tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

But he said that not a single one was present in South Waziristan.

The military arranged a trip for Islamabad-based journalists on Saturday to South Waziristan, about 400 km (250 miles) northwest of the capital Islamabad, where they met Wazir and other pro-government tribal elders.

Several pro-government tribesmen have been killed in South Waziristan since security forces launched a series of operations to flush out Islamic militants from the rugged region in March last.

More than 300 militants were killed and 700 captured while 250 army troops were killed in this campaign, officials say.

Pakistan has waged a campaign over several years to root out militants including senior figures linked to al Qaeda that are believed to be holed up in the rugged terrain of the country's tribal region, which borders Afghanistan.

Germans open children's hospital in Afghanistan
Kashar News, Pakistan
KABUL, May 30 (SANA): Children injured by landmines will be among those to benefit from a new paediatric hospital built and run by Germans in the Afghan capital Kabul.
 
Although the hospital, financed largely by the German charity Peace Village International, has been accepting patients since the beginning of the year, last month saw the formal opening, presided over by German ambassador Rainald Steck, Afghan Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi and Irene Salimi, a well-known human-rights advocate who has long worked to aid Afghans in general and children in particular.

The 40-bed German Paediatric Hospital has the capacity to administer general anaesthetics to young patients. Before, such patients would have had to travel abroad for this treatment.

“Cleanliness, new medical equipment, the presence of an anaesthesia machine, experienced doctors and good treatment of patients are what makes the hospital unique," said the hospital's director, Brother Gerolf Dechentruiter.

The hospital specialises in treating children with orthopaedic problems, especially those who have been injured by landmines or suffer from birth defects. In addition to local staff, specialists from Heidelberg University in Germany are available to treat patients.

The hospital provides treatment free to its young patients, something that is important to Brother Gerolf, who has been practicing medicine in Afghanistan for ten years. He told of working at another hospital where doctors demanded payment for “free” care.

Located on the south side of Kabul in one of the city's poorer neighbourhoods, the freshly blue-painted building stands out from its surroundings. Its main corridor features a sculpture of a woman carrying one child and leading another.

Kubra, 45, was at her son's bedside in a post-operative room when an IWPR reporter visited the hospital. She had taken the boy to Tehran months ago and spent 2,700 US dollars there for treatment for injuries he had sustained in a motorcycle accident.

"There were too many economic problems with that," she said. "That's why I came to this hospital. Everything's great here. It's not like the other hospitals."

Iran N-bomb comment denied
ISLAMABAD – The Dawn, May 29: President Gen Pervez Musharraf did not say that Iran was very anxious to acquire a nuclear bomb, foreign office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani categorically stated here on Sunday. “The president has not been quoted correctly,” the spokesman said when Dawn sought his confirmation on President Musharraf’s reported comment on Tehran’s nuclear ambition in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly.

The German weekly had quoted the president as saying: “I do not know. They are very anxious to have the bomb,” when apparently asked how to prevent Iran from developing a military nuclear programme. The interview was published on Saturday.

According to the spokesman, when President Musharraf was asked if Iran was anxious to obtain a nuclear bomb, the president merely repeated the question posed to him and then said: “I don’t know.” The spokesman expressed his disappointment at the wrong attribution of the statement on a sensitive issue to President Musharraf.

In this context he underlined that Pakistan had always supported an EU-Iran dialogue and peaceful resolution of Tehran’s nuclear programme issue. In the interview to the German weekly President Musharraf had reportedly opposed a preventive war against Iran and warned that it could be disastrous.—Q.A.

Agencies add: President Musharraf said a pre-emptive war against Tehran would lead to “a disaster considering the current state of the world”.

“It would provoke a rebellion in the Muslim world. Why open up new fronts?” he was quoted by the magazine as saying. He insisted that Pakistan, which already has nuclear weapons, was against proliferation.

Replying to a question, President Musharraf said the desecration of the Holy Quran and prisoner abuse cases were a matter of great concern for every Muslim individual and states.

When asked whether anti-American feelings were still on the rise in Pakistan, he said: “We have a strategic direction that does not get affected.”

The president said that an organization like Al Qaeda was well-knit around the world and all other terrorist groups had joined them in Iraq with an interest to attack the US forces or Western forces.

When pointed out that Pakistani forces had often been criticized by the West for going after Osama bin Laden half-heartedly, he said: “I’m very annoyed frankly and pose a question as to who has been fighting Al Qaeda other than Pakistan?”

“It is only Pakistan which has eliminated over 700 terrorists from cities and over 300 to 400 from the mountains,” he said, adding that during the war in Afghanistan Al Qaeda shifted to Pakistan and security forces killed something like over 200 or 250 of them in the initial stage.

While sketching the origin of terrorists, he said mainly foreigners, non-Afghan, non-Pakistanis, who came into this part of the world during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for 10 years were brought inside by the US, by the West and thus a ‘Jihad’ started there.

He noted that all these people shifted their bases into Pakistani cities and into mountains and “we got over 700, which included all the important figures like Khalid Al Sheikh and Abu Obaida”.

About harbouring foreign militants, he said some people had a religious motivation to provide shelter to them. Others simply did it for money. They were charging thousands of dollars from them and the terrorists had access to money, he observed.

About terrorists’ communications system, he said they stopped talking on the phone, they started contact by couriers. The last one that was caught was the third-in-charge, Abu Faraj Al Libbi. He was in the mountains.

“They were running the whole show through a courier system and this was the first time we broke into it. We caught about 14 couriers. And the ISI keeps telling me that they have earned about $30 million bounty money in one week,” he added.

About Osama bin Laden, the president said: “…yes, he is alive. He is probably in the border belt, where it is so easy to shift to either side. Then there are some areas where there are no operations, so maybe he could shift there.” About American troops’ presence in Pakistan, he said this was intelligence work rather than operational.

UNHCR plans refugee verification process
PESHAWAR – The Dawn, May 29: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will undertake a process of verification of Afghan refugees in the North Waziristan Agency as the government has announced to close down all camps in the area, officials said. A senior official in the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) said that the government had agreed to allow UN agency’s workers to visit the tribal region to conduct a verification campaign before closing down the camps.

About 52,000 Afghans are still residing in various camps in the agency and some Afghan elders had refused to leave, owing to insecurity and lack of job opportunities in Afghanistan.

A meeting in this regard was held here on Saturday which was attended by officials of CAR, Ministry of State and Frontier Region and representatives of the UN refugee agency.

It was decided that UN workers would begin verification campaign in the camps in the North Waziristan Agency in June and would be completed by the end of month.

The political authorities would be directed to provide security cover to UN workers.

Earlier, the government refused to allow workers of the UN agency to visit the agency because of the security situation in the area.

The federal government had announced to close down all refugee camps in the agency along the Afghan border.

The inhabitants of the camps would be offered the choice of voluntary repatriation or relocation to other place in Pakistan.

15 Drug Suspects Arrested in Afghanistan
(AP) - KABUL, Afghanistan Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces arrested 15 suspected drug traffickers and seized a large quantity of opium in a major counter-narcotics swoop in a southern province, local officials said Monday.

Elsewhere, the bodies of two men, thought to be Uzbeks who were kidnapped as they drove down a major highway in another southern province last week, were found shot to death, said Ali Khail, spokesman for the governor of Zabul province. He blamed Taliban rebels.

The counter-narcotics operation began Sunday in Helmand province and continued Monday. An Afghan force, supported by coalition soldiers and helicopters, seized 32 assault rifles, three vehicles and the opium, which was then destroyed by burning, said two senior provincial officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

One of the officials said that a former provincial intelligence chief was among the arrested suspects.

The commander of the police anti-narcotics squad, Gen. Said Kamal Sadat, said helicopters from the U.S.-led coalition participated in the raids.

The U.S. military in Kabul said its forces were not involved. British officials, who have a lead role in the anti-drug campaign, declined to comment on the matter.

The raid came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai pressed for more assistance in fighting the opium trade during a meeting with President Bush Monday in Washington.

Bush told reporters he made it very clear to Karzai "that we have got to work together to eradicate the poppy crop."

Opium poppies are the raw material for heroin. Their cultivation has rocketed since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Last year, cultivation reached a record 323,700 acres, yielding nearly 80 percent of world supply.

Karzai said that he hoped Afghanistan would be free of opium poppy crops within five to six years and that Afghan farmers could find alternative crops like honeydew melons and pomegranates.

The Uzbek Embassy said local authorities had informed them that five or six armed men had attacked two trucks driven by Uzbeks last week and that at least one of the men had been killed, but the fate of the other was not known.

However, Khail said local residents had found two bodies Sunday in an area between Shinkay and Sori districts about a two hours drive from the scene of Wednesday's kidnapping and had alerted police.

Khail said the two men appeared to be about 35 years old and had been shot with AK-47s. He said authorities were sure they were the kidnap victims, but couldn't provide their names.

A man claiming to speak for the Taliban, Mullah Latif Hakimi, said Sunday in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location that they carried out the abductions and killings on Wednesday, but that the victims were Russians. The claim's authenticity could not be verified.

After a winter lull, loyalists of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime and other militants opposed to Karzai's U.S.-backed government have ramped up their insurgency with a series of bombings and other attacks.

U.S. troops and their Afghan allies killed 12 insurgents in fighting Saturday in eastern Paktika province, near the Afghan border with Pakistan, that left one U.S. soldier slightly wounded. Spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said rebels had sneaked across the border from Pakistan and opened fire on American and Afghan forces.

Separately, the United Nations on Sunday called for Afghan human rights investigators to be allowed into Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, after the New York Times reported that poorly trained U.S. soldiers there had repeatedly abused prisoners.

Such abuses are utterly unacceptable and an affront to everything the international community stands for," said Richard Provencher, U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan. The U.S. military did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Karzai also commented on recent reports of abuse of Afghan prisoners by their American captors. "We are of course sad about that," he said in Washington. But, he added, "It does not reflect on the American people."

Bush, meanwhile, said American troops in Afghanistan will remain under U.S. control despite Karzai's request for more authority over them.

Of course, our troops will respond to U.S. commanders," Bush said, with Karzai standing at his side at the White House. At the same time, Bush said the relationship between Washington and Kabul is "to cooperate and consult" on military operations.

The New York Times on Sunday detailed fresh allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. forces, citing the Army's criminal investigation into the deaths of two Afghans at the Bagram base north of the capital Kabul in December 2002.

Road smashes on the rise in Herat
By  Khalida Khursand 
HERAT CITY, May 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Doctors in the western city of Herat revealed on Sunday they had received around 27 people injured in road crashes during the last 24 hours.

Provincial traffic officials cited reckless driving, frequent snarl-ups on roads and a shortage of trained traffic police in Herat as principal reasons for the sharp rise in accidents.

"As many as 342 people hurt in smashes were treated last month at the Herat hospital; five out of them died," said Mohammad Rafiq Shirzai, spokesman for the Health Department.

But Esmatullah, deputy chief of the traffic police, saw no surge in smashes and succinctly said he was unaware of the figures released by the provincial Health Department.

He put at 16 the number of fender-benders taking place over the last six month in Herat city, saying crashes happening in other districts of the province had not been reported.

For their part, drivers blame the escalating accidents on flawed traffic-control measures that encouraged road hogs. Uncontrolled road rage led to most such mishaps, they believed.

"There are few traffic police officials in city squares and roundabouts, with drivers paying little attention to road rules. The result is that fast driving and rule violations are leading to more and more mishaps," argued Mohammad Anwar, a middle-aged driver.

Karzai condemns Indonesia blasts
By  Makia Monir 
KABUL, May 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai Sunday condemned the two bomb blasts in Indonesia killing 22 people.

According to a press release issued here, Karzai termed it an inhuman act. He expressed sympathy with the government and people of Indonesia on behalf of the government and people of Afghanistan.

Two powerful bombs exploded in a crowded market in Sulawesi island town of Tentena on Saturday, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 40.


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