By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Thu May 3, 2:54 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A remote-control bomb hit an Afghan army bus in Kabul on Thursday, killing the driver and wounding 29 people, including 22 soldiers, officials said.
The bomb was placed in a cart on the side of the road and exploded when the bus passed by, said Ali Riza, an Afghan National Army officer at the scene.
The driver of the bus was killed and 22 soldiers were wounded, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a defense ministry spokesman.
Seven civilians also were wounded, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, the Kabul police director of criminal investigation. He said the army was the target.
Sardar Mohammad, an eyewitness, said that the explosion sent the bus crashing into a wall.
The front of the bus was badly damaged, while windows of nearby houses and shops were shattered. The powerful blast also knocked out electricity in the neighborhood.
Insurgents regularly target members of fledgling Afghan security forces in their drive to undermine the government of President Hamid Karzai.
According to an Associated Press tally, more than 180 members of Afghanistan's security forces have been killed by insurgents so far in 2007.
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Civilian killings threaten Afghanistan's future
by Sardar Ahmad Thu May 3, 4:54 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Mounting civilian casualties in military operations against the Taliban are turning already wary Afghans against foreign troops based here and eroding the fragile support for President Hamid Karzai, analysts say.
After days of protests against allegedly innocent victims being killed by international troops, Karzai summoned top generals and diplomats to his palace Wednesday to reiterate years of complaints over blameless deaths.
"Afghans are human beings too," he told reporters afterwards. "What we are seeking is value to Afghan lives."
Soon after the meeting, Afghan and UN teams announced their investigations found that around 50 civilians were killed in days of ground fighting and bombing in a remote valley in the western province of Herat.
Also Wednesday, about 500 university students torched a flag in the eastern province of Nangarhar alleging six civilians were killed by US-led coalition troops on Sunday.
"With every civilian life lost, the Afghan people get more angry," said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, which is based in Washington.
"The US military has a stake in avoiding that kind of resentment. They must now investigate incidents of civilian death following combat operations -- and they should ensure the Afghan people see them do it," she said in a statement.
There is a danger the mounting casualties will play into the hands of the Taliban movement's efforts against the government and foreign troops, said Nader Nadery, from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The extremists were toppled from power in 2001 by the coalition and are waging a campaign of violence and propaganda that tries to portray the international forces as "infidel" invaders and the government as a stooge of the West.
"Incidents causing civilian casualties will no doubt distance people from the international troops and their own government. It's dangerous," Nadery told AFP.
"It will also provide an easy tool for the Taliban to use against the progress achieved over the past five years," warned the rights activist.
And civilian casualties threaten to ruin public confidence in the grinding fight against the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies.
"Firstly it undermines the struggle against terrorists," said parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai. "Secondly such killings turn people against these troops," she said.
"Obviously the sense of support and cooperation will be replaced by hatred and desire for revenge. It makes it easy for the enemy to use this against us."
There is already simmering resentment among Afghans towards the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to help the fledgling government forces stabilise the fractured country.
Aggressive soldiers in bullet-proofed convoys regularly force traffic off the roads. They also burst into homes in the middle of the night to conduct searches despite repeated calls from Karzai to work with local authorities and respect Afghan sensibilities.
Anger towards the soldiers erupted into riots in Kabul in May last year after a coalition vehicle lost control and ploughed into civilians cars, killing a handful of passengers.
More recently there has been a steady rise in the number of civilians, including children, shot dead at checkpoints manned by foreign forces who opened fire after their warnings to vehicles to halt are ignored.
Last month a unit of US Marines was withdrawn from Afghanistan after being accused of opening fire indiscriminately on civilians after an ambush in Nangarhar province. About a dozen people were killed, including two children.
Karzai's government, widely accused of corruption and incompetence, is already "far short of gaining the real support of the ordinary people," said senior Afghan journalist and commentator Ikhpolwak Safi.
"When civilians die -- obviously not for a good reason -- and it is linked to his government, it will turn people against him," he said.
"Dropping bombs on villages because one individual has attacked them is not a wise thing to do. This is what the foreign troops have been doing," he said.
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Former Afghan PM shot dead in Kabul
Wed May 2, 9:33 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A lawmaker who briefly served as prime minister during Afghanistan's civil war was shot and killed outside him home in Kabul on Wednesday.
Abdul Saboor Farid, a member of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament, was prime minister for one month in 1992 when the country plunged into a bitter civil war following the defeat of the Soviet army by the U.S.-backed mujahedeen fighters.
He was killed outside his house in northern Kabul, said Gen. Zulmay Khan, Kabul province's deputy police chief.
Farid was representative of the northern province of Kapisa. He was a senior mujahedeen commander in the area, close to a renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who now leads part of the insurgency against President Hamid Karzai and his foreign backers.
"I cannot believe that he was killed," said his son Tayad Farid. "The tyrants opened fire from a Toyota Corolla," he said.
Nafat Gul, also a lawmaker in the upper house of the parliament, condemned the shooting.
"Afghanistan's government should be able to protect its lawmakers," Gul said.
Authorities said that they were investigating the possible motives for the shooting, but nobody was arrested.
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French charity calls for mercy for hostages in Afghanistan
Wed May 2, 3:06 PM ET
PARIS (AFP) - French aid agency Terre d'Enfance appealed to the group in Afghanistan holding one of its French workers and three Afghan colleagues to show mercy, in a statement issued Wednesday.
"On Saturday, you took the decision to give us back Celine. For everyone, it is a great relief and satisfaction to know today that she is with her loved ones," Terre d'Enfance (A World For Our Children) wrote.
Celine Cordelier was freed by the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar on Saturday and returned to France on Sunday.
She brought with her a message from her captors calling for the withdrawal of France's troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force by next Saturday.
"Although tired after 24 days of detention, Celine was able to make it clear that she had been treated with respect during her captivity," the NGO's statement continued.
"This ordeal has not changed the friendship and esteem that she feels for all of the Afghan people.
"In freeing Celine, you showed understanding towards these volunteers, who are all committed to a humanitarian programme that helps children. We are all grateful to you.
"Our sense of relief will not be complete until Eric Damfreville and his three Afghans companions have in turn been reunited with their families.
"The message that you gave to Celine had been passed on to all French leaders. It will be understood all the better if you decide to be merciful."
The statement concluded: "We beg you to let Eric and his companions live and to give them back their liberty."
Cordelier, who was said to be between 20 and 30 years old, was captured on April 3 in the southwestern province of Nimroz with another French volunteer, Damfreville, and the three Afghans.
They were all working for the non-governmental organisation.
Cordelier, as well as reading the statement given to her by the Taliban, made a personal appeal to her former captors for the release of her four colleagues.
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NATO seeks ways to cut Afghan civilian toll
By Rodney Joyce Thursday May 3, 7:17 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO forces in Afghanistan vowed on Thursday to improve coordination with Afghan authorities to avoid civilian casualties, after a warning from President Hamid Karzai that his people were losing patience over continuing bloodshed.
The push to ease the toll on civilians came as a roadside bomb blasted an Afghan army bus in Kabul, killing the driver and wounding 29, hours after gunmen shot dead an ex-premier.
Nearly 60 civilians have been killed in raids by U.S.-led coalition troops in the past week, Afghan officials say, sparking four days of anti-American, anti-Karzai protests.
"There's absolutely room for additional coordination," Lieutenant Colonel Maria Carl, a spokeswoman for NATO's ISAF security force, told reporters asking about civilian deaths and Afghan concerns they were not involved in planning Western military operations.
"We are seeking new ways, all of us in country -- the government, the coalition, ISAF -- to improve these processes."
Protesters called this week for the removal of Karzai for failing to stop the civilian killings, which have come amid an upsurge in violence as the Western-backed government and the Taliban push for a decisive advantage in their battle for the country.
Karzai again called for increased military co-ordination on Wednesday at a meeting with the U.S. ambassador and United Nations, NATO and EU representatives, and warned of serious consequences for all if civilian deaths were not curbed.
Most of the recent civilian deaths were reported in the western province of Herat, an area not known as a Taliban stronghold, prompting many Afghans to reject initial reports from U.S.-led coalition forces that the dead were 136 Taliban.
NATO officials said inquiries were under way into what happened in Herat, where Afghan officials say 51 civilians were killed.
Another protest erupted in Herat on Thursday after an Afghan soldier shot dead a man on a motorcycle, officials said.
While the protests have been mainly small, government officials, NATO and analysts all warn that a steady stream of civilian deaths will inevitably erode support for Karzai and the war against the Taliban, who were driven from power in 2001.
A failure to curb rampant corruption and rebuild the country after decades of war has also weighed on the government.
Thousands of civilians have been killed since U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban government for sheltering al Qaeda leaders.
In Kabul, Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a remote-controlled bomb blast that ripped into the side of an Afghan army bus on Thursday, killing the driver and wounding 29 soldiers and civilians.
The bomb, hidden in a cart, was triggered in a crowded area of the city as the bus took army officers and soldiers to work.
Kabul has been relatively safe compared to the troubled south and east but there have been around 10 attacks on Afghan and foreign forces in the city this year.
Late on Wednesday, Senator Ustad Farid, a member of the upper house of parliament and briefly prime minister during the civil war of the 1990s, was gunned down in his car outside his house.
Police said they suspected the killing, the second of a lawmaker this year in the capital, was due to a feud rather than a Taliban attack.
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Reuters Television)
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Afghanistan to Recruit More Police to Counter Taliban
By Ed Johnson
May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan will recruit about 19,000 more police officers to help tackle the Taliban insurgency, the international body tasked with overseeing the country's reconstruction said in a statement.
``There have been some unexpected challenges from insecurity in the south and southeast of the country,'' said Ishaq Nadiri, senior economic adviser to President Hamid Karzai and co-chairman of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board.
The number of Afghan National Police will be increased to 82,000, the board said in a statement yesterday after meeting in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The police force currently stands at about 63,000 officers, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks over the past year in the south and east in an attempt to destabilize Karzai's government. The rebels have about 3,000 fighters, Major General David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this month, compared with about 37,000 NATO personnel, 10,000 U.S. soldiers carrying out anti-terrorism operations and 35,000 trained and equipped soldiers in the Afghan National Army.
More than 2,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers and Afghan personnel began Operation Silicon two days ago aimed at driving Taliban fighters from Sangin Valley in southern Helmand province. The U.K.-led offensive is part of an attempt, codenamed Operation Achilles, that began in March to defeat insurgents in the province. Helmand is the center of the country's opium production.
About 75 suspected Taliban fighters were killed on the first day of the Sangin Valley operation and one British soldier was wounded, Associated Press reported yesterday, citing U.K. Major Dominic Biddick.
Afghan and coalition forces killed five insurgents late yesterday as they tried to drive through a security checkpoint 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Qalat in southern Kandahar province, the U.S. military said in an e-mailed statement today. Three insurgents escaped during the gunfight.
The JCMB reviews progress made under the so-called Afghanistan Compact, agreed at a conference in London last year, which set out a five-year timeframe for improving security, governance, rule of law, human rights and economic and social development in the country.
Since the board first met a year ago, school enrolment has increased by an estimated 12 percent to 5.4 million students, 35 percent of them girls and 82 percent of Afghans have access to basic health services, according to the statement.
``More roads have been built, troop sizes are up and in most areas forward momentum is being maintained,'' said Tom Koenigs, co-chairman of the board and United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon's special representative for Afghanistan.
The board called on Karzai's government to draft a national anti-corruption strategy by October and start planning for the 2009 elections.
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PAKISTAN: Report sheds new light on Afghan refugee community
03 May 2007 09:59:41 GMT
ISLAMABAD, 3 May 2007 (IRIN) - The vast majority of Afghan citizens (82 percent) registered in Pakistan say they had no intention of returning to their homeland in the near future, according to the final report on the registration of more than two million Afghans living in the country.
The report was launched on Thursday by the Pakistani government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
"Now at least we have fixed the number at 2.15 million and have a baseline to work from," Vivian Tan, senior regional public information officer for UNHCR, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad.
Administered by Pakistan's National Database Authority under the auspices of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, Pakistan's Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR), and the UN refugee agency, the results of a 15-week registration effort set the stage for better assisting one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world today.
"The basic objective of the registration effort was to fix the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan in order to manage the development, welfare and more importantly, the phased repatriation of Afghans to their homeland with dignity and honor," CAR's head, Nayyar Agha, added.
Under the US $6 million registration drive funded by Pakistan, the European Commission, the USA and Britain, all Afghans above the age of five who registered received Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, valid for three years, recognising them as Afghan citizens temporarily living in the country. Many of them have lived in the country for decades. (Children under five are listed on one of their parents' cards).
But it was the demographics and socio-economic profiles of Thursday's report which proved most interesting, showing that the Afghans living in Pakistan were by no means a monolithic entity.
Close to 300,000 or nearly 14 percent of registered Afghans reported having special needs, including the need for special legal and physical protection, as well as female-headed households, important medical conditions and children/youth at risk.
"This information could help us and the two governments [Pakistan and Afghanistan] to find solutions for each group in the coming years," Tan said.
Equally interesting was the very young age of the Afghan population in the country, with 74 percent being under the age of 28, suggesting that many were born and raised in Pakistan since the influx of Afghan refugees first began in 1979 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"The Afghan population's young age is interesting in the sense that many were probably born in exile and have few links with Afghanistan," Tan said. "They are a source of great potential whether in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but need to be developed through education and vocational training," the UNHCR official added.
But that will prove a key challenge in the coming years, with approximately 71 percent of the Afghans registered having no formal education, and only 20 percent actually active in Pakistan's labour market.
Of the later, almost half worked as unskilled or daily wage labourers. Moreover, 83 percent of working Afghans earned less than Pakistan's minimum wage of US $67 per month.
Yet another interesting finding of the report is that while in a 2005 census of Afghans in Pakistan, most people cited lack of shelter, land and livelihoods in their homeland as the primary impediments to their return, security had now emerged as the primary barrier.
Of those registered, 41.6 percent cited security as their foremost concern, followed by shelter at almost 31 percent, and livelihoods at 24.4 percent.
Nonetheless, the issue of access to land/shelter remains a major barrier for many Afghans returning as well, with 89 percent reporting to be landless.
According to the report, 64 percent of those registered live in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan, while 21 percent live in Balochistan further to the south.
Currently, Afghans constitute six percent of NWFP's population and 5.9 percent in Balochistan.
Close to a million Afghans live in 86 camps across the country, indicating that more than half (55 percent) of all registered Afghans live outside camps, the report said.
In terms of places of origin, 21 percent originate from Afghanistan's south-eastern Nangarhar province, followed by Kabul (11.2 percent), the northern province of Kunduz (9.7 percent) and the southeastern provinces of Logar and Paktya (6.6 percent), respectfully.
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84 percent of Afghan refugees in Pakistan don't plan to return home, report says
The Associated Press Thursday, May 3, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A vast majority of the 2 million-plus Afghan refugees in Pakistan do not intend to return home, mostly because of security fears, but Pakistan still plans to repatriate them all within three years, officials said Thursday.
The government is pushing for the refugees to go back to Afghanistan largely in response to international criticism over cross-border attacks by Taliban militants who Pakistan says often shelter in refugee camps.
But the escalating conflict in Afghanistan, where about 1,300 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, and the lack of land and services for returnees, has raised doubts about whether the plans are feasible.
A report issued Thursday on a recent U.N.-supported registration of Afghan refugees found that 84 percent do not intend to return. Of those, 41 percent cited insecurity as the primary reason — double the figure recorded during a refugee census in 2005.
Three-quarters of the registered refugees arrived in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Most are ethnic Pashtuns originating from Afghan border provinces, and 90 percent of the refugees say they have no land there.
Nevertheless, Sajid Hussain Chatta, a top official at the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, said the government was sticking to its target for all the refugees to be repatriated on a voluntary basis by 2009.
"We have no reasons to believe that we will shift our policy," Chatta told a news conference after the report's release. "We hope the situation in Afghanistan will improve."
He said 200,000 had already gone back during 2007 and it was planned for 600,000 more to return by year's end, although those plans were still being discussed with officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Four camps — housing more than 220,000 refugees — would close by September, he said.
One of the first camps slated to close, Pir Alizai in southwestern Baluchistan province, houses about 36,000 people, many of them holding Pakistani ID cards. Officials have described it as a hub for militants and drug traffickers.
Some 2.1 million refugees joined the 15-week registration process, which entitles them to stay in Pakistan until December 2009. Of the 300,000 who did not sign up, 200,000 have since gone back to Afghanistan. Those remaining face deportation.
Guenet Guebre-Christos, the UNCHR representative in Pakistan, said repatriation should be gradual and take into account the "absorption capacity" of Afghanistan.
"It has to be voluntary. The people have to decide for themselves if the situation is conducive for them to return," she said.
More than three million Afghans have chosen to return home from Pakistan with assistance from UNHCR since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime at the end of 2001, but tens of thousands have also come the other way, settling in Pakistan.
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Media: RFE/RL On The Front Lines Of Press Freedom
May 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Every day, journalists in the world's hotspots face official harassment, threats, and even death while doing their jobs -- and correspondents for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are no exception.
Two were killed or died in the line of duty in the past 12 months, another was injured, and others have been arrested or harassed by authorities. As nations today mark World Press Freedom Day, senior broadcasters from some of RFE/RL's language services described some of the challenges and dangers faced by their staff.
Iraq remains the most dangerous place in the world for journalists; more than 40 of them were killed there last year alone. Last month, RFE/RL staff joined that grim list, when correspondent Khamail Khalaf was found dead in Baghdad.
"When your colleague is reported abducted and then maybe tortured and brutally killed, of course this inevitably produces a very heavy shock on anyone, especially on people who just spoke to this person or saw this person. This was of course the very first reaction," said Sergey Danilochkin, the director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. "However, then we also have to take into consideration that people there in Iraq face that kind of brutal reality on a daily basis. And many of them know that there is no way to escape it. Either you have to run away or you have to keep living, keep working, keep doing things, because otherwise there is no shelter for you."
Danilochkin continued, "Several days after this very unfortunate death of our colleague, people doing their jobs were put in danger. One of the journalists was reporting from the most protected area, which is the Green Zone, from the parliament building. She had just left the building and there was this terrible explosion in the cafeteria, she was in that particular place just minutes before it happened. Luckily she wasn't there, but on the other hand, you never know when such kind of danger may cross your [path]."
Warlords, drug lords, officials
Correspondents for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan have been threatened by the Taliban -- and put under pressure from all sides, according to the service's director, Akbar Ayazi. "A few months ago our correspondent in Khost, Amir Bahir, was actually attending the funeral of the governor of Khost Province, who was killed in a suicide bomb just the day before," Ayazi said. "At the funeral another suicide bomb took place and hurt [our reporter] and actually threw him. Luckily he didn't get injured seriously, he's doing a great job and he's a brave guy and still there. We do face dangers like this."
"It's not only the Taliban side, sometimes our reporters get under pressure from the warlords, from the drug lords, from government officials, if they don't find things to their liking they always go after our reporters and ask them to give reports to their liking. So that is unfortunately a big dilemma in Afghanistan, and our people are facing really big problems," the service director said.
A correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Ogulsapar Muradova, died in jail last year in unclear circumstances. Turkmen Service director Jahan Dovletova said Muradova had been covering mainly Turkmen social issues since starting to report for the service in March, 2006. "In June, she was jailed [on charges of illegally possessing ammunition] and later in September she died in custody after the imprisonment, she died in prison," Dovletova said.
Muradova's relatives are still seeking an explanation, Dovletova said. "Family members, when they saw the body, they saw the signs of torture, and that's why they demanded a thorough investigation of the body, but still they failed to get an investigation. Until now we don't have any official reports from the Turkmen authorities about the reason of her death."
Dovletova said that after the death of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in December, 2006, "There were some expectations of more freedom, [but] now time shows that the previous regime still continues and correspondents, not only for Radio Free Europe, but other correspondents are under strict surveillance by the Turkmen authorities. We [have not had] any information about two correspondents in the eastern part of Turkmenistan for over three weeks. Our Ashgabat correspondent is facing harassment by the authorities these days. These latest incidents show that the harassment continues and we're concerned about the situation in Turkmenistan."
Asked to cooperate
For several months now, RFE/RL has been asking the Iranian authorities to allow one of Radio Farda's correspondents to leave the country.
Parnaz Azima , known as Nazi Azima to her colleagues, is both a reporter and a well-known translator of books. When she traveled to Tehran in January, authorities confiscated her passport.
Amir Mosaddegh Katouzian, the acting director of Radio Farda, the Persian-language service run jointly by RFE/RL and Voice of America, explained what happened to Azima. "She was told by her brother that her mother was probably not going to live and if she wants to see her [mother] for the last time she had better come back," Katouzian said.
"When Nazi Azima was in Tehran airport at the point of arrival, her passport was confiscated by the authorities. Questions were asked such as, 'You have a CD, where is it?' And she didn't know what the authorities were really asking or seeking. So she said she doesn't listen to music, and they said, 'You know what kind of CD we're talking about -- condensed information that is in your suitcase.' So she asked them to search and see for themselves that there's nothing in there. So they took the content of the suitcase in addition to two raw translations."
At one point, Azima was asked to cooperate with Iranian intelligence services. "I don't know the specifics and the conversation had been very brief," Katouzian said. "The point was that Nazi Azima said she doesn't know what cooperation they're talking about and she's a professional, she's only going to work as a professional journalist, and if they mean any type of institutional ties between, for instance, the authorities in Iran and her work, she doesn't accept [that] and she rejects it outright," the broadcaster said.
Shut down and harrassed
The Tashkent bureau of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service was shut down at the end of 2005. One former correspondent, Nosir Zokirov, continued to face official harassment after his release from jail last year. Zokirov was the first reporter to cover the May 2005 unrest in the eastern city of Andijon, said Khurmat Babadjanov, a broadcaster with the Uzbek Service.
"In the morning he called us and reported that a group of people attacked the prison in Andijon and freed some prisoners," Babadjanov said. "But after a few months he was at the center of harassment in Fergana Valley. He [was] called to the local police for interrogation. We asked Nosir Zokirov, 'Maybe you [should] leave the region if you're facing harassment,' but he told us, 'No, I won't leave, I will continue my job.'But finally he was arrested with the charges of harassing a local security official. This case shows that the local authorities can do anything to silence a journalist," Babadjanov said.
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Afghan Army and police: A long way to go
By C.J. Chivers The New York Times Wednesday, May 2, 2007
KABUL: Faizal Karim, a sophomore at the National Military Academy here, stood outside a classroom holding his English-language homework assignment. For a group of cadets nearby, a lecture in physics was ending.
Bright-eyed, articulate and in a four-year course modeled after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Karim is a hopeful face in Afghanistan's nascent national security forces.
He is 21 and rejects the Taliban. "I want to serve my country's people," he said, speaking in confident English.
But several days before, an altogether different side of Afghanistan's security forces was evident when a Dutch and Afghan patrol visited a police compound in Oruzgan Province. The police officers there were cultivating poppy within the compound's walls, openly participating in the heroin trade. The Afghan Army squad that visited them, itself only partly equipped, did nothing.
These wildly contrasting glimpses of Afghanistan's security forces illustrate the mix of achievements and frustrations that have accompanied international efforts to create a capable Afghan Army and police force after decades of disorder and war.
They also underscore the urgency behind the renewed push to recruit and train these units, which is now under way with an influx of equipment and training approved by the Bush administration last year.
Yet, even after several years of efforts to create army and police units, it remains difficult to fully assess their readiness. Some units, especially in the army, are motivated and much better equipped than any Afghan forces were five years ago. Others, especially in the police, remain visibly ragtag, underequipped, disorganized, of uncertain loyalty and with links to organized drug rings.
U.S. officials say it will take at least a few years before most of the Afghan forces become more ready and reliable, and perhaps a decade before they are capable of independent operations. But they also say that the resources and plans are in place to make such ambitions possible.
These ambitions are important because U.S. military officials say a principal element of any Western exit strategy from Afghanistan will be to create competent national security forces. Such forces are regarded as necessary to contain, and eventually defeat, the Taliban insurgency that expanded in 2006 and to provide stability in regions where the government's influence remains weak.
To this end, the United States plans to spend $3.4 billion in the year through September on army and police units here, according to the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military unit that supervises the development of the security forces.
Defense officials hope to spend an additional $5.9 billion during the next fiscal year. Plans call for indigenous forces to grow to 132,000 soldiers and police officers, or even as many 152,000, from about 100,000 that exist on paper now, and to equip them with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and armored vehicles, as well as small arms from NATO.
Signs of new programs are apparent inside and outside the capital. The first armored vehicles have begun to arrive. At the military academy, where Karim studies, an engineering laboratory was recently built and construction is visible on dormitories, an infirmary, a dining center, a gymnasium and more.
But several Western officers cautioned that it would take at least three years before the equipment and training were in place and that much must be done to improve units, which in many cases remain ill-led or corrupt, both in the traditional manner of shaking down citizens and in the pervasive poppy trade, which undermines rule of law.
There are questions as well about whether the Afghan government can afford to maintain the larger and more heavily equipped forces that it is soon to receive and whether increases in security spending are out of proportion with efforts to rebuild the country's civilian infrastructure, another component of counterinsurgency planning.
For now, military officials and outside analysts say, the immediate steps are necessary.
"Regardless of what happens in Afghanistan, the security forces need to be beefed up," said Steven Ross, a research consultant for the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It was highly underinvested in the first years after 2001."
As the money flow quickens, the various army and police forces on the ground display a widely varying range of skills and abilities.
For example, during a week of foot and vehicle patrols in Oruzgan Province, the Afghan Army captain who led the patrols, a 25-year veteran of wars against the Soviet Union and the Taliban, was seasoned, decisive and skilled. But the 12-man unit he led lacked any visible sergeants. The captain led all the soldiers himself, giving directions to each man.
In a Western unit, several noncommissioned officers would be leading small teams in a unit of similar size. Afghan and U.S. officers said the absence of this core of enlisted leadership had stemmed from high rates of illiteracy and the enduring influence of the Soviet Union's training of its own Afghan proxies, which emphasized centralized leadership.
The squad's equipment was also uneven. The soldiers wore Kevlar helmets and fragmentation vests, which proved their value in an ambush when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near two soldiers, who were wounded only slightly. But on the same foot patrol, an Afghan soldier left the base with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher without a sight, which drastically reduced his accuracy when he came under fire.
Other equipment shortages were evident days later on a mounted patrol, when the squad's trucks were equipped with frames for machine guns, but did not have mounts so the weapons could be attached. The guns were lashed onto the trucks with twine, limiting their range and mobility.
The police units in the province were in worse shape and more poorly led. At many remote posts few officers were on duty and officers wore civilian clothes, not uniforms.
Many posts also have separate tribal allegiances and do not cooperate tactically, Western military officials said.
"They just have their own islands and protect their families and protect their villages and that is it," said a Dutch officer, Captain Ninke. (Dutch military rules allow most deployed soldiers to be identified only by rank and first name.)
The Dutch were also trying to encourage the local police to act against a group of Taliban who had stolen a police truck.
Two local chiefs, Abdul Karim and Sadiq, said their general had told them that whoever captured the truck could keep it, so they were trying to steal the truck back, rather than kill the Taliban driving it.
"Do you know how hard it is to capture a truck from the Taliban without damaging it?" Sadiq asked.
Poppy cultivation was also widespread at, or near, the police posts. At best, the police were tolerating the trade, the Dutch said. At worst, they were part of it.
U.S. officials said, however, that more experience and training could turn many problems around.
Major General Robert Durbin, who leads the U.S. effort to upgrade the Afghan security forces, acknowledged during an interview that poppy production was widespread.
But he said Afghan Army units, which have been working with U.S. forces for several years, were much less involved in it than were the police. With more training, he said, the police involvement in the drug trade should decline.
"If we can do it for the army, we can do it for the police," he said.
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Some abuse `possible,' envoy says
Kabul ready to act if there's credible case of human rights violations: Ambassador
May 03, 2007, Bruce Campion-Smith, OTTAWA BUREAU - TORONTO STAR, TheStar.com - News -
OTTAWA–An Afghan diplomat concedes some abuse may occur in his country's jails and says his government is launching a "high-level" investigation into recent reports of torture that have caused a political firestorm in Canada.
"It is possible that at one point or another some people under certain circumstances may have been mistreated. But to claim at this stage that these allegations are true or false, without due process and a professional investigation, is premature," Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, said in an interview yesterday.
Samad said Afghan authorities were convening an "independent" body that will include non-government bodies to examine the recent reports of abuse and torture in detention facilities in Kandahar.
"If there is a credible case of human rights violations, we have announced that we are not only going to investigate, seek help if need be, open all our doors to any monitors under a new arrangement – but also take corrective action and even enforce our laws on those who have committed violations," he said.
The ambassador also said there's no evidence so far that prisoners captured by Canadian troops suffered abuse after being transferred into the custody of Afghan authorities. "There is no proof that any of those prisoners who claim and allege to have been mistreated were either turned over by Canadian forces or have even been mistreated," he said.
Questions about the treatment of prisoners in Afghan jails have sparked a political storm on Parliament Hill over the past week, and even a demand that Canada's military stop all transfers of prisoners.
In the wake of that furor, Canadian officials struck a new deal with local prison officials in Kandahar to gain access to their facilities for follow-up visits with prisoners. Under the terms of the 2005 agreement Canada signed with Afghanistan for prisoner transfers, "there has not been any monitoring taking place until now," Samad said.
"We are right now looking at the best mechanism that would ensure not only access but adequate monitoring and follow-up," Samad said in Ottawa.But the diplomat also made clear that Afghanistan doesn't favour the solution endorsed by human rights advocates – a detention facility built and operated by NATO allies.
"We're not in the business of building extra-territorial prison facilities in Afghanistan, such as Guantanamo-type places, run by a foreign power," Samad said, referring to the U.S. prison camp in Cuba. "Afghanistan has its own institutions and will manage its own institutions but will, if need be, seek assistance," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Samad acknowledged Afghanistan's troubled history as he laid out the challenges of overhauling government institutions, including the justice system, undermined by years of conflict.
"We know what kind of background some of these torture and mistreatment issues have had in Afghanistan in the past 30 years. And no one claims that we now have a clean slate," Samad said.
"A country with that kind of a history and still dealing with dangerous and deadly elements in its midst is trying to reform itself and it's going to take time and effort, patience and commitment by all parties."
As Afghanistan's man in Canada since late 2004, Samad said he's been "continuously" seeking Ottawa's help in rebuilding Afghan institutions, including law enforcement. And for much of that time, he says his requests got a cold shoulder.
"It has not been an easy process," Samad said. "Certain issues that to us were a priority, which we know have far-reaching consequences of nation and state building, were ignored or were shunned."
Only in recent months has the federal government been more "engaged" and ready to tackle what Afghanistan sees as its own priorities, he said. "That includes law enforcement, training and we're still looking at other ways to improve all of this.
"Afghanistan cannot and will not become a functioning modern country without people who can run it and do so within legal bounds knowing their responsibilities to the Afghan constitution and international law."
Meanwhile, Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association were scheduled to go before a federal judge this morning seeking an injunction to ban the transfer of prisoners to Afghan officials. The two groups filed a court action in February charging that Canada's existing transfer agreement does not ensure detainees will not be tortured by Afghan forces.
But federal lawyers will argue there's no evidence of abuse and that the courts have no role in judging military decisions. The federal court could rule on the injunction today.
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Pakistani jirga commission to talk with Afghan counterpart in Kabul
People's Daily Online, China
Members of the Pakistan jirga commission will leave for Kabul Thursday for the second meeting of the Pak-Afghan jirga commission meeting, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Wednesday.
The jirga members will also call on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, spokesman Brig (retd) Javeed Iqbal Cheema told a news conference.
It would be the second meeting of the jirga commission to discuss proposals about the convening of the meeting of jirga, or council of elders to strengthen security along the common borders.
The first meeting of the joint commission was held in Islamabad in February this year.
The idea of jirga was floated when U.S. President George W. Bush hosted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Karzai in the White House in September last year.
Cheema said that the aim of the commission was to establish people-to-people contact, defuse tension between the two countries and bring stability in the region.
He said that the jirga commission would also discuss rehabilitation and repatriation of Afghan refugees and border control.
Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao will head the Pakistani jirga commission while Pir Syed Gailani will lead the Afghan commission in the talks.
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‘No Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan’
Daily Times, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani official rejected on Wednesday an Afghan army general’s claim that Pakistanis were killed along with Taliban in an anti-militant operation in southern Afghanistan.
Afghan General Moheydin Ghori said on Tuesday that up to 56 fighters were killed on Monday, including “lots of Pakistanis,” in a NATO-led sweep through a Taliban stronghold in the southern province of Helmand.
A military spokesman in Islamabad, however, said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and Afghan officials, after being contacted by Pakistani officials, had “denied that they made any such claim in the press about killing Pakistanis in the operation”. ISAF has said that “a significant number of insurgents” were killed in the operation in Helmand’s Sangin Valley. afp
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US welcomes Karzai-Musharraf summit in Ankara
NEW YORK, May 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States Monday welcomed a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf in Ankara on April 30 and hoped it would help in a better coordinated fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are strong allies of the US and we welcome any kind of agreement, which enhances their efforts against al-Qaeda and Taliban and helps in developmental activities, a State Department official told Pajhwok Afghan News.
"We strongly support making sure that this becomes an ongoing dialogue between the two nations, the official said. The two leaders are scheduled to meet again later this year or early 2008.
The Karzai-Musharraf talks in Ankara are seen as a corollary of the September 2006 White House meeting between the two leaders -- an initiative of President George Bush to bridge differences between who South Asian leaders.
He hailed the decision by the presidents to form a joint working group for better co-ordination on various issues between the neighbours. That kind of mechanism can be enormously helpful for the two countries, which share such a long border."
The United States of America would be interested in helping both the countries in institutionalizing that kind of a mechanism, he said.
Observing both the countries and leaders share a lot of issues, the official said: We are very supportive of Presidents Karzai and Musharraf getting together and discussing these issues."
They had a common interest in developing border regions and fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban, the official said, adding all that was reflected in the joint statement issued at the end of the Ankara summit.
Lalit K. Jha
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Press freedom shrinking in Afghanistan and Pakistan: US
NEW YORK, May 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States has put Afghanistan and Pakistan on a list of seven countries where press freedom has shrunk in the past one year.
Among other countries listed are Philippines, Lebanon, Venezuela, Russia and Egypt. The list formed part of a one-page fact sheet issued by the State Department on the eve of the UN-sponsored World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The fact sheet also listed more than a dozen countries with continually poor records on press freedom. The countries are Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Tunisia, Syria and China.
Since 2003, the US has increased its donations to UNESCOs International Programme for the Development of Communications five-fold to $300,000.
It has funded many of its media development projects, including in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda and Uganda.
Lalit K. Jha
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Donor pledges to ARTF cross $2 billion mark
KABUL, May 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Predictable, disciplined and coordinated finance through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is necessary to allow Afghans to take responsibility for their future and build modern state institutions, the World Bank has said.
Ahead of an annual meeting of ARTF donors, the bank said on Tuesday, pledges from 25 countries to the World Bank-administered ARTF - set up in May 2002 - had crossed the $2 billion mark.
Without the extraordinary generosity of these budgetary contributions by the international community, it would have been far harder for Afghanistan to build upon the opportunity of peace that broke out in 2001, said Praful Patel, World Bank vice president for the South Asia region.
With this money Afghanistan has seen a stable and predictable government for the first time in two decades, a government that is able to present credible strategies and also to translate strategy into better services with real a development outcome, he observed.
ARTF's recurrent window finances salaries and wages of about 220,000 non-uniformed civil servants, over half of whom are working outside Kabul. It has financed the governments operating and maintenance expenditures outside of the security sector, including bulk purchases of essential supplies.
The Afghan government will continue to need external finance to ensure that essential basic services are maintained, said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank country director for Afghanistan.
The ARTF is the best instrument we have to support salary payments in critical services such as education and health and it is absolutely vital that donors extend their support the Fund. Significantly, it also promotes better reporting and accountability mechanisms that will help build accountably of the state.
The Fund also committed $405 million to priority investments, which has financed projects in areas such as microfinance, telecommunications, road construction and community development.
For instance, it has helped establish 15 microfinance institutions with a network of over 224 branches in 22 provinces, with nearly 311,600 loan and savings clients. It has also helped improve the telecom sector. Eight out of 100 Afghans now have access to a telephone, compared to less than one out of 100 in 2002
Administered by the World Bank, the ARTF is governed by a management committee consisting of the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.
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JCMB finds Afghanistan Compact on track
KABUL, May 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) - a central mechanism for coordination between the Afghan government and the global fraternity - met here on Tuesday to discuss progress on implementation of the Afghanistan Compact.
Adopted at the London conference in January 2006, the fiver-year Afghanistan Compact succeeds the Bonn Agreement and lays out a framework for international engagement with the Central Asian country through a series of benchmarks for consolidating peace, strengthening institutional and human capacities and pursuing political, economic and social development.
Meeting a year after its inaugural session of April 30, 2006, the JCMB found the Compact on track with momentum on both early and longer-term benchmarks. However, the participants also noted the need for accelerating work on turning initial outputs into meaningful changes for the Afghans.
In a statement released after the meeting, the JCMB said the ceiling for the number of Afghanistan National Police officers had been temporarily increased to 82,000, and improved coordination on energy issues was beginning to show positive results.
Political commitment remained firm and the government and its partners made progress in developing sectoral strategies needed for attaining Compact benchmarks and finalizing the Afghan National Development Strategy by mid-2008, it added.
Last year was successful, a problem-solving mechanism for Compact implementation and monitoring was established, and significant progress has been made in key sectors," said Professor Ishaq Nadiri, JCMB co-chair and senior economic adviser to President Karzai.
However, he hastened to point out, there had been some unexpected challenges from insecurity in the south and southeast of the country. We are glad that there is progress to report, but we must focus more energy on implementation to ensure that this progress soon becomes more evident on the ground.
In healthcare, in education, in community projects, in microfinance, in government revenue collection, in the modernization of the Afghan National Army - in each of these areas and many others, we are moving forward, said Tom Koenigs, JCMB co-chair and special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan.
But now, as the Afghanistan Compact enters its second year, we must look beyond this room and devote our attention to ensuring that the JCMB and its associated consultative mechanisms produce even more tangible outputs and visible action, he stressed.
Recommendations for strengthening the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups programme will meanwhile be presented to the next JCMB meeting. Within the next five months the electoral cycle will need to be simplified.
By October 2007, the government is required to draft a national anti-corruption strategy. The JCMB also called for Government efforts to implement the work plan on transitional justice, launched on December 10 last year.
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Sherpao sees pro-Taliban militant behind deadly attack
ISLAMABAD, April 30 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A pro-Taliban militant from the restive South Waziristan Agency, bordering Afghanistan, is said to have masterminded a suicide attack at a public meeting addressed by Pakistan's interior minister.
Abdullah Mehsud, who fought alongside Taliban against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, was behind the bomb blast at the Charsadda rally that left more than 30 dead. The minister and his son, member of the NWFP Assembly, were among dozens injured in the suicide blast.
Following a meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz here Sunday night, Sherpao said initial investigations suggested the attack was the handiwork of the one-legged tribal militant, who has vowed to target President Gen. Musharraf and his supporters.
Pretty composed and confident, the minister told journalists he remained undeterred by threats from terrorists. Sherpao said he would address a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Mansehra.
Investigators do not rule out the possibility that the bomber had an accomplice who fled after the terrorist act. The device was also connected with a remote control, they believe, arguing a collaborator was present near the site to trigger off the device in case the bomber panicked.
Headed by Additional Inspector General of Frontier Police Fayyaz Toru, a four-member team is investigating the blast at Station Koroona. With the bomber's head sent to a laboratory in Islamabad for a DNA test, Toru said the explosive jacket used in the bombing was Russian-made.
Meanwhile, hospital sources said the death toll from the massive blast had gone up to 31, with 15 of the injured including three policemen struggling for life.
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World Bank underlines transparent, accountable govt
KABUL, April 30 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A senior World Bank official has said development assistance to Afghanistan will produce useful results if it underpins a sustainable and effective state accountable to its citizens.
World Bank's South Asia Regional Vice President Praful Patel, addressing the Afghanistan Development Forum (ADF) here on Sunday, urged the Karzai government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and clean governance.
"The state and its development partners must surely see they depend on one another for the successful implementation of any development strategy," said the official, who also highlighted the symbiotic relationship between development and security in the post-conflict country.
Under the Afghanistan Compact and Afghanistan National Development Strategy, Patel said, the government was committed to the development of an independent and pluralistic media. Along with a free press, he maintained, civil society groups and a constructive parliament were assets that would help Afghanistan achieve economic progress.
"By now we know that there can be no development without security. But we should also acknowledge that in Afghanistan there is no security without development. And until we understand how to make our development assistance more effective, we will not meet the ambitious targets that we together with our military and diplomatic colleagues have signed up to in our partnership with Afghanistan."
He added donors would fail to improve the performance of the state if they did not allow the Afghan government to coordinate the resources spent within its borders. By the same token, he explained, the donors would not be convinced to support the state if its government was not manifestly committed to reform.
Afghanistan faced grave consequences if the partners failed, he warned, arguing resources would not continue to flow in the volumes they had until now especially if taxpayers did not see concrete results. "But Afghans, too, are frustrated with the lack of services after five years and billions of dollars. Losing the support of Afghanistans citizens will be fatal."
He noted the poor record on aid coordination, saying two-thirds of all development expenditures in Afghanistan for the current fiscal were made through the external budget rather than through the governments accounts.
"When we bypass the systems that the government has established, it is no wonder that we ask ourselves why there is so little capacity built though about $1.6 billion that has been spent on technical assistance in the last five years," the World Bank official pointed out.
In the health sector, he recalled, the government made clear commitments in 2003 to a basic package of health services and undertook ministerial reform to ensure that enough capacity existed in-house to fulfill core state functions.
There had been a massive expansion of basic health care, with access to clinics going up substantially and the infant mortality rate declining. Still, the donors needed to continue supporting Afghanistan in the health sector, he stressed.
Patel went on to cite the National Solidarity Programme as another good example of how national plans could have a massive impact. Around 16,000 villages have now elected Community Development Councils, which are generating priority projects for their communities that the state will finance.
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104 health centres to be set up with WB assistance
KABUL/FAIZABAD/TIRINKOT, May 1, (Pajhwok Afghan News): The public health minister Tuesday inked contracts with several private firms for the construction of 104 health centers in six provinces of the country.
Syed Muhammad Amin Fatemi told media-people on the occasion the health centers would be set up in Samangan, Badghis, Farah, Nimroz, Balkh, Sar-i-Pul and Maidan- Wardak provinces.
Other health centers would be built by the ministry in Parwan, Panjsher and Kapisa provinces, he explained, saying: "Health centers are essential for bringing down mother and child mortality rates."
The World Bank had provided the $2.6 million needed for the execution of the project, the public health minister said.
Benjamin Lewenson, an expert of the World Bank's health department, said: "This process is useful in that it helps the people get access to health services."
Currently on a trip to Faizabad, capital of the northeastern Badakhshan province, the German minister for economic cooperation and development promised her hosts long-term support for uplift plans.
Wieczorek-Zeul, accompanied by two German parliamentarians, visited Faizabad to meet a German Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) based there and renew support to the Badakhshan people.
At a meeting with provincial officials, she observed: "Badakhshan is rich in natural resources and we want to launch long-term projects here in order to help the people and create a bridge of friendship between Afghans and Germans."
Suggestions on health and power supply floated by provincial officials would be seriously considered and appropriate action taken, the visiting minister promised.
In Badakhshan, German and Dutch forces are part of the PRT tasked with maintaining security and helping the reconstruction effort. The troops have been in the province for last few years.
Meanwhile, in the Uruzgan province, the Afghan Development Association (ADA) granted equipment and pesticides to farmers, who had their poppy fields eradicated.
ADA's regional head Khan Mir Khan told Pajhwok Afghan News a commission comprising members of the governor's house, agriculture department, provincial council and the association had been set up to select deserving growers for equipment distribution.
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