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June 16, 2008 

Afghans support threat to target Taliban havens
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press June 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated Monday in support of President Hamid Karzai's threat to send troops against Taliban militant leaders in Pakistan, with many protesters saying they were ready to take up arms.

Pakistan hits back over Afghan leader's threats
by Danny Kemp
ISLAMABAD, June 16, 2008 (AFP) - Pakistan stoked tensions with Afghanistan on Monday, summoning the Afghan envoy and vowing to defend its sovereignty after President Hamid Karzai threatened cross-border attacks on militants.

Bush says US can calm Afghan-Pakistan border
By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press June 16, 2008
LONDON - President Bush said Monday that the United States can help calm the "testy situation" between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he refused to endorse Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's threat to send troops across the border as a means to target terrorists.

Outgoing US commander blames Pakistan for spike in Afghan attacks
* General McNeill says ‘greatest risk from collusion of indigenous insurgents, NWFP terrorists’
* Says Afghan spike ‘directly attributable to lack of pressure on other side of border’
Daily Times (Pakistan) / June 16, 2008
LAHORE: Attacks increased by 50 percent in April in Afghanistan’s eastern region, as a spreading Taliban insurgency in Pakistan fuelled a surge in violence, the outgoing US commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

Britain to send more troops to Afghanistan
by Robin Millard June 16, 2008
LONDON (AFP) - Britain is to send more troops to Afghanistan boosting the strength to the "highest level," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday after talks with US President George W. Bush.

Afghan villagers caught in the middle of conflict
By Jon Hemming June 16, 2008
KHELE MALAL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Just off Afghanistan's main highway, Taliban insurgents regularly visit the village of Khele Malal. So do Afghan and U.S. forces, leaving local farmers caught between the two sides.

AFGHANISTAN: Little support for victims of child sexual abuse
KABUL, 16 June 2008 (IRIN) - Ten-year-old Sweeta still remembers the most painful moments of her life when a bulky 35-year-old man raped her in his office in the town of Sheberghan, Jowzjan Province, in northern Afghanistan.

Viagra and military secrets at the Bagram bazaar
by Thibauld Malterre Sun Jun 15, 1:23 AM ET
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AFP) - "I don't really know what it is for," says a salesman with some embarrassment, despite the explicit illustrations on the bottle of "Long Love Spray".

America's prison for terrorists often held the wrong men
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers June 15, 2008
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The militants crept up behind Mohammed Akhtiar as he squatted at the spigot to wash his hands before evening prayers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Sardar Daud's grave located in east of Kabul spot
(PAN) Habib Rahman Ibrahimi  Jun 15, 2008
KABUL-Graves of President Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan and his family members have been located in the east of Kabul city.

Freed Taliban infiltrate rural areas
The Globe and Mail KATHERINE O'NEILL From Monday's Globe and Mail June 15, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN-About 400 Taliban militants freed during a spectacular prison break in Kandahar have flooded into nearby restive rural areas patrolled by Canadian troops, and even as far east as Pakistan, according to a senior insurgent commander.

Bush: Afghanistan Is On 'Freedom's March'
Sky News, UK  Monday June 16, 2008
George Bush has told Sky News that the development of democracy in Afghanistan is a march for freedom, which the US is involved in for both its own security and moral reasons.

Hekmatyar denies peace-talk rumours
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008
Notorious ex-Jihadi leader accuses Karzai of failing to provide security
FORMER Jihadi leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who the United Nations accuses of supporting the Taliban, has once again denied rumours that he is holding peace-talks with the government.

Refugees told to clear out for new town
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008
Camp's residents demand new homes after violent clashes with police
REFUGEES threatened with eviction from a camp in Herat have told the government to find them another place to live after the city's mayor tried to destroy their homes.

U.S. is uneasy as Pakistan bargains with militants
American and NATO officials fear that truce negotiations in tribal areas will result in more violence in Afghanistan.
By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer June 15, 2008
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN-The jirgas, or traditional tribal gatherings, continue late into the night.

More smuggled children arrive in UK as Afghan violence escalates
• Hundreds flee threats and pressure to join Taliban
• Social workers fear many fall victim to exploitation
Guardian Unlimited - Politics - This Week Robert Booth Monday June 16 2008
The number of Afghan children discovered being smuggled through Dover has risen dramatically in the last 12 months after a surge in violence between Taliban and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Police arrest gang of bomb plotters
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008
Explosives and remote controls seized from home in Herat
POLICE have arrested a group of five men accused of organising suicide attacks and roadside bombings in the western province of Herat.

Women boxers challenge Afghan culture
San Francisco Chronicle, USA Nick Meo, Chronicle Foreign Service Sunday, June 15, 2008
Kabul -Concord resident Tareq Shawl Azim says he always knew he would one day return to his parents' country to make it a better place.

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Afghans support threat to target Taliban havens
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press June 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated Monday in support of President Hamid Karzai's threat to send troops against Taliban militant leaders in Pakistan, with many protesters saying they were ready to take up arms.

Across the border, Pakistan summoned the Afghan ambassador to lodge a protest, saying it too would defend itself.

Afghan tribesmen, elders and clerics gathered in at least four cities in eastern Afghanistan — where Karzai's support is strongest.

"We are ready to defend our homeland," said Malik Majid, an elder in Paktika province, near the Afghan-Pakistan border. "We strongly condemn Pakistan's interference in our country."

President Bush, speaking in London, said the United States can help calm the "testy situation," but refused to endorse Karzai's threat. He called on leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold talks and share intelligence.

"It's in no one's interest that extremists have a safe haven from which operate," he said.

On Sunday, Karzai threatened to send troops to target Taliban leaders Mullah Omar and Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan.

Omar led the Taliban regime that was ousted from power in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Kabul claims Pakistan shelters Omar, but Islamabad maintains the elusive militant chief is in Afghanistan.

Mehsud is the most prominent leader of Pakistani Taliban militants and was accused in the killing of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a charge he denied. Mehsud recently told reporters that he is sending fighters to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In response to Karzai's statement, Pakistan summoned the Afghan ambassador.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi described Karzai's statement as "threatening" and "regrettable." Qureshi said he would make "it absolutely clear that Pakistan shall defend its territorial sovereignty."

Karzai's threat — the first time he has said he would send forces into Pakistan — comes only days after a sophisticated Taliban assault on Kandahar's prison freed 870 prisoners, including hundreds of Taliban militants.

Although Afghanistan appeared unlikely to follow through on the threat, the spat marked a new low in relations between two key nations in the U.S.-led war on terror, often strained over allegations of cross-border militancy.

Karzai has long pleaded with Pakistan and the international community to confront Taliban safe havens in tribal areas, and U.S. officials have increased their warnings in recent weeks that such sanctuaries must be dealt with.

Afghan officials reported demonstrations at several locations on Monday.

In Sharon district of Paktika, governor spokesman Ghami Mohammad Yar said hundreds of tribesmen, elders and clerics had gathered at the governor's compound to express support for Karzai.

"We are ready to sacrifice, like before, for the protection of our homeland borders," Yar said, referring to the resistance against Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

Taliban militants themselves often compare their own fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to the anti-Soviet jihad.

Karzai, like much of the population in eastern Afghanistan, is ethnic Pashtun. Many are tired of militancy in a country scarred by a quarter century of war and support democracy in Afghanistan.

But support for Karzai's U.S.-backed administration is also running low. It appears there is no shortage of Taliban recruits among Pashtun communities on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Pakistan says the root causes of the insurgency are the failure of Karzai's government and international community to address the grievances of Pashtuns and develop the region.

Support of the U.S.-led war on terror is unpopular in Pakistan — a sentiment that intensified after U.S. aircraft dropped bombs along the frontier last week during a clash with militants. Pakistan said the incident killed 11 of its paramilitary forces.

In a sign of that sentiment, Sadiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the second-largest party in Pakistan's fractious ruling coalition, advocated the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as "an effective solution of the Afghan problem."

A spokesman for Pakistan's Taliban movement has warned of an escalation in Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces if Karzai sends forces across the border. Maulvi Umar also said the Afghan army would face defeat at the hands of thousands of tribal fighters.

___

Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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Pakistan hits back over Afghan leader's threats
by Danny Kemp
ISLAMABAD, June 16, 2008 (AFP) - Pakistan stoked tensions with Afghanistan on Monday, summoning the Afghan envoy and vowing to defend its sovereignty after President Hamid Karzai threatened cross-border attacks on militants.

Karzai sent relations between the two allies in the US-led "war on terror" plummeting to a new low on Sunday when he said that his war-torn country would be justified to strike Taliban rebels on based on Pakistani soil.

His comments brought hundreds of Afghans onto the streets in support in Afghanistan on Monday but caused alarm amongst the two countries' Western allies, who have thousands of troops based in insurgency-hit Afghanistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned in a statement that he would "like to make it absolutely clear that Pakistan shall defend its territorial sovereignty."

Qureshi condemned Karzai's "irresponsible, threatening" comments, adding that the the only way to combat extremism was by "non-interference in each others' internal affairs".

The Afghan ambassador to Islamabad, Anwar Anwarzai, was summoned to the foreign office on Monday "and a strong protest was lodged over President Karzai's statement," foreign office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told AFP.

In London, US President George W. Bush urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to expand their dialogue on how to confront militants operating along the porous 1,500-mile (2,500-kilometre) frontier.

"There needs to be better cooperation," Bush said after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "There can be more dialogue between the Pak (Pakistani) government and the Afghan government."

The volatile situation on the border was highlighted last week when Pakistan accused "cowardly" US-led coalition forces of killing 11 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike in a lawless tribal region.

Kabul had no immediate comment on the developments in Islamabad, but more than 2,000 tribesmen and religious leaders gathered in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika to back their president.

"We support Karzai. Pakistanis are coming to Afghanistan and we have evidence," Amin Jan, a tribal chief involved one of the protests, told AFP.

Afghan and Western officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of failing to curb Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists based in its troubled tribal belt and have expressed concerns over its recent negotiations with Taliban commanders.

Pakistan abandoned its support for the hardline Taliban movement and backed the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but Afghan officials have raised questions about the possibility that Islamabad covertly still backs the rebels.

Islamabad strongly rejects the claims, saying that the root of the problem is in Afghanistan and that it has more than 90,000 troops along the border, with 1,000 Pakistani soldiers having died fighting insurgents since 2001.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Sunday after Karzai's comments that Islamabad would not "allow anyone to interfere in our affairs."

Karzai had told a news conference on Sunday in his toughest words yet on the militant problem on the border that "Afghanistan has the right to destroy terrorist nests on the other side of the border in self-defence."

The Afghan leader sent a specific warning to Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, whom the previous Pakistani government has blamed for the December assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Mehsud is one of the key figures in negotiations launched by Gilani's government soon after it came to power in March having defeated allies of President Pervez Musharraf in general elections.

Despite the presence of about 70,000 international troops mainly operating under NATO, the insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Kabul has gained pace in the past two years.

Karzai's government suffered a blow on Friday when Taliban militants blasted open the main prison in Kandahar city, freeing more than 1,100 prisoners including hundreds of insurgents.
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Bush says US can calm Afghan-Pakistan border
By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press June 16, 2008
LONDON - President Bush said Monday that the United States can help calm the "testy situation" between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he refused to endorse Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's threat to send troops across the border as a means to target terrorists.

Bush called for leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold talks and share intelligence as both confront notorious Taliban leaders.

"There's a lot of common ground," Bush said. "It's in no one's interest that extremists have a safe haven from which operate. Obviously, it's a testy situation there."

Bush declined to answer when asked directly whether he supports Karzai's threat to send troops in Afghanistan. Karzai said Sunday that Afghanistan has a right to send troops into Pakistan because Taliban militants cross over from Pakistan to attack Afghan and foreign forces

Bush said, though, that he understands Karzai's concerns.

"We can help," Bush said. "We can help calm the situation down."

Last week, U.S. aircraft dropped bombs along the Afghan-Pakistan border, an incident the Pakistan army said killed 11 of its paramilitary forces. The exchange only deepened the increasingly touchy relations among the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Appearing together, Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown traded compliments about each other and their commitments to two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. They also offered a united front on Iran, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Darfur and expressed hopes for reaching a global trade pact.

On at least two matters, Brown came ready with news that Bush wanted to hear.

The prime minister said Britain will freeze assets of Iran's largest bank in a further move to discourage the country from developing nuclear weapons. He said that Britain will work to convince Europe to follow suit. Halting Iran's nuclear ambitions has been a major thrust of Bush's trip to Europe.

Brown also announced that his government was sending more troops to increasingly violent Afghanistan, another priority for the U.S. president.

Brown called Bush "a true friend of Britain" and praised his "steadfastness and resoluteness." Bush said of Brown, "He's tough on terror and I appreciate it."

Questioned about Iraq, Bush said that history will judge how the United States waged the war — whether more troops should have been deployed and whether they should have been positioned differently. But he said he had no doubts about deposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "Absolutely it's necessary," the president said.

Brown showed no distance from Bush on the strategy in Iraq. The prime minister said he would not order an arbitrary withdrawal of the 4,000 remaining British troops until the task is done, even as his government was announcing that it would bolster its forces in Afghanistan to its highest level ever.

"The policy is showing success," Brown said of Iraq. "In Iraq there is a job to be done and we will continue to do the job and there will be no artificial timetable."

Bush cast the British and U.S. approach to withdrawal in the same terms: "The plan is to bring them home based on success." He said: "I have no problem with how Gordon Brown is dealing with Iraq. He's been a good partner."
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Outgoing US commander blames Pakistan for spike in Afghan attacks
* General McNeill says ‘greatest risk from collusion of indigenous insurgents, NWFP terrorists’
* Says Afghan spike ‘directly attributable to lack of pressure on other side of border’
Daily Times (Pakistan) / June 16, 2008
LAHORE: Attacks increased by 50 percent in April in Afghanistan’s eastern region, as a spreading Taliban insurgency in Pakistan fuelled a surge in violence, the outgoing US commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has claimed.

At a Pentagon news conference, Gen Dan K McNeill, who left Afghanistan on June 3 after 16 months of command in the country, said that stabilising Afghanistan would be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgents in Pakistan.

Collusion: “The greatest risk is the possibility of collusion between the insurgents who are indigenous to that region and the more intractable, the more extreme terrorists who are taking up residence there in the NWFP,” he said.

Increase: McNeill said that the 50 percent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan in April compared with the same month last year was “directly attributable to the lack of pressure on the other side of the border”.

“What’s missing is action to keep pressure on the insurgents,” he said. For example, Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has failed to agree to attend a meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US in four months.

McNeill also criticised a US-funded program to train and equip Pakistan’s Frontier Corps (FC), questioning the effectiveness and loyalty of the tribally recruited guards.
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Britain to send more troops to Afghanistan
by Robin Millard June 16, 2008
LONDON (AFP) - Britain is to send more troops to Afghanistan boosting the strength to the "highest level," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday after talks with US President George W. Bush.

The announcement comes as the bodies of five British soldiers were being repatriated from Afghanistan, including the 100th to die there since US-led operations began in late 2001.

The new deployment, welcomed by Bush, is expected to take British troop levels to around 8,000 in Afghanistan, where they have been involved in fierce fighting with Taliban militia.

"It is in the British national interest to confront the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Afghanistan would come to us," Brown said at a joint news conference with Bush at the Foreign Office in London.

"And so today, Britain will announce additional troops for Afghanistan, bringing our numbers in Afghanistan to the highest level."

Defence Secretary Des Browne was to make a full statement in parliament later Monday.

Britain has approximately 7,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of whom are in the restive southern Helmand province fighting the Taliban. The Islamists have been waging a bloody insurgency since being ousted from power in the 2001 invasion.

"Eighteen months ago, the Taliban boasted that they and their paid foreign fighters would drive our forces out of southern Helmand (province)," Brown said.

"Now most agree that security is on the way to being transformed."

The Times newspaper said the defence secretary was expected to confirm the deployment of 230 specialist personnel to help the development of the Afghan army and police forces.

The engineers, logistical staff and military training experts have been earmarked to begin a tour of duty in Helmand over the next few weeks, the daily said.

The troops have been hand-picked for their specialist skills and are drawn from different units.

The prime minister said: "Our aim is to generate progress where the fourth poorest country in the world, laid low by decades of conflict, can, as a democracy, enjoy peaceful social and economic development."

British forces would, over time, move "from a direct combat role to train and support Afghanistan's own army and police."

Bush thanked Brown for the troop announcement, saying there was a duty to "protect ourselves and help others".

"You've been strong on Afghanistan and Iraq, and I appreciate it," the president told the British premier.

"But more importantly, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq appreciate it. The march to democracy is never smooth.

"We'll be making our decisions based on the conditions on the ground, the recommendation of our commanders, without an artificial timetable set by politics."

Bush admitted that the situation in Afghanistan was "tough work".

"It's hard to take a society that has been ravished by brutality and convince people to take the risks necessary to work for civil society and for freedom for women and to educate their children," he said.

"But I believe it's necessary work for the sake of peace and for our security.

"And I believe it is in the moral interests of comfortable nations to help others realise the blessings of liberty.

"It is the only realistic way to guarantee the peace for our people."

The bodies of the latest five British soldiers killed in Afghanistan were due to arrive at RAF Lyneham airbase in south-west England.

Following a repatriation ceremony, their coffins will go with their families for private funerals, a defence ministry spokesman said.

Their deaths earlier this month brought the British toll to 102 since operations began in Afghanistan.
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Afghan villagers caught in the middle of conflict
By Jon Hemming June 16, 2008
KHELE MALAL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Just off Afghanistan's main highway, Taliban insurgents regularly visit the village of Khele Malal. So do Afghan and U.S. forces, leaving local farmers caught between the two sides.

The Taliban and Western-backed Afghan troops are locked in a battle for Highway One, Afghanistan's main trade route that runs south from the capital Kabul to the second city Kandahar before swinging northwest towards Iran.

Securing the highway means securing the villages either side of it through which the Taliban infiltrate from their mountain hideouts to launch ambushes and roadside bomb attacks against Afghan and international forces, or man impromptu checkpoints to demonstrate their presence.

"Security is not good," says village elder Haji Abdul Qader. "Yesterday there was fighting close by. The people are scared."

Khele Malal sits surrounded by groves of fruit trees watered by irrigation ditches from the hillside above. Ripening wheat fields slope down to a rocky river bed below. But just beyond that is the strategically important Highway One.

There are scores of such villages along the road in this, Zabul province, just northeast of Kandahar, and hundreds along its 450 km (280 mile) stretch between Kandahar and Kabul.

Groups of Taliban, sometimes just a few, sometimes up to 40 come to Khele Malal, sometimes every few days, sometimes every few weeks, the villagers say, clearly not wanting to be too specific.

The Taliban demand food and sometimes shelter from the villagers, Afghan and U.S. officers say. But across the south and east the hardline Islamists have also hanged or beheaded dozens accused of acting as informers for foreign forces.

"GIVE US SECURITY"
"We are powerless, we cannot tell the truth either to you or to them," Qader tells visiting local police chief Gul Mohammad, gesturing over his shoulder to the hills where the Taliban have known safe havens.

The Afghan police, unlike the more mobile army, are stationed permanently within communities and often bear the brunt of Taliban attacks. They suffered hundreds of casualties last year alone in their fight to contain the insurgency.

Zabul's newly retrained police and their U.S. army mentors know they do not have enough forces to patrol every village every day, so see winning over villagers as key to denying the Taliban food, shelter and staging areas for attack.

U.S. troops also have funds for schools, mosques, clinics or wells to help the task.

"What do you want from these Americans?" Mohammad asks the clutch of poker-faced farmers standing round and stroking their beards. Two U.S. officers stand back at some distance, letting Mohammad do the hard sell.

"Tell them now. Do you want a mosque? What do you want them to build for you?" Mohammad says.

"We don't want a mosque, we don't want them to build anything for us, we have but one request to them, just do not disturb us," replies Qader.

"They," interjects another villager, Asadullah, referring to the Taliban, "won't let us use one of your schools."

"If we were to give you supplies. We have teacher supplies, books, notepaper, pens, could you use that and not get in trouble?" asks U.S. army Major John Payne, joining in to try to find a way out of the impasse. A lengthy heated debate among the men of the village ensues before that offer is also declined.

"We don't need any help, we just want security," says Qader, stroking his white beard and adjusting his sun-glasses in the already hot sun of early morning.

"I can provide security," the police chief replies, "but I need your help".

The police chief is clearly looking for information or tip-offs on Taliban movements but Qader, who at the age of around 75 has survived several decades of Afghan conflicts, is too cagey give anything away and risk trouble with the notoriously ruthless insurgents.

"You have mortars, heavy guns, trucks and aircraft, lots of soldiers and about 40 governments helping you and you're asking me for help?" he says "I am an old man with a white beard and you are asking me about security."
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AFGHANISTAN: Little support for victims of child sexual abuse
KABUL, 16 June 2008 (IRIN) - Ten-year-old Sweeta still remembers the most painful moments of her life when a bulky 35-year-old man raped her in his office in the town of Sheberghan, Jowzjan Province, in northern Afghanistan.

At around 10am on 31 January 2008 a vehicle with the markings and number plate of the Afghan National Army (ANA) stopped near a water-point where Sweeta was filling her buckets, according to the Afghanistan Human Right Organisation (AHRO).

"The three men in the car grabbed her and drove to an army barracks where the commander raped her in his office," said Lal Gul Lal, chairman of AHRO, who has provided legal support to the victim's family.

The child was semi-conscious when the rapist dropped her home with some gifts, lying to her elder sister that she was hit by a car and was experiencing abdominal bleeding.

"She [Sweeta] was threatened that if she told anyone about the incident they would kill her parents," Lal told IRIN in Kabul.

But it soon became clear that the girl had been raped, and this was later confirmed by local doctors.

For a whole week after the incident Sweeta's father knocked on various government doors, trying to obtain justice, but only received verbal sympathy.

The situation changed when he approached AHRO and local and national media got wind of the story. Despite strong opposition from some influential figures, the rapist was arrested and brought to court in Kabul.

"Many cases are unreported"

Sweeta's is not an isolated case: Some children are exploited for sexual purposes but their misery is rarely talked about in public.

"Many cases are unreported," said Hangama Anwary, a commissioner for the rights of children with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

At least 31 cases of child sexual abuse were registered by the AIHRC in 2007. So far this year only four cases have been reported, though it is estimated by the AIHRC and other human rights organisations, that there are hundreds of cases every year.

"Some parents think by reporting sex offences against their children they will only bring dishonour on their families," Anwary said.

On 19 September 2007 seven young men gang-raped and tortured a 13-year-old girl in the northern province of Balkh, according to the two rights watchdogs, the AHRO and the AIHRC.

"A government official released all the accused rapists two days after they were apprehended, saying there was a lack of evidence," said Lal of AHRO.

"The offenders are still at large and the victim is roaming around various government departments with her petition for justice," he added.

According to Lal, many of those involved in sex offences are able to escape justice due to the weak rule of law and corruption among judges and government officials, and/or have the support of powerful militia leaders.

Link with human trafficking

However, some measures to tackle sexual offences against children have been taken: On 6 June a court in Takhar Province reportedly sentenced to death a man accused of raping and strangling to death a seven-year-old girl.

In early May, judges in Kandahar Province gave the death penalty to a man who reportedly raped and buried a six-year-old girl.

"Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude," found the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US Department of State.

The report said Afghan children were trafficked internally and to regional countries for "commercial sexual exploitation, forced marriage to settle debts or disputes, forced begging, debt bondage [and] service as child soldiers".

The AIHRC also said there were strong linkages between human trafficking and child sexual abuse. However, a major obstacle in tackling child trafficking is the lack of specific legal and judicial tools.

"Human trafficking has not been defined in our legal system so far," the AIHRC's Hangama Anawary told IRIN. "We also do not have legal clarity on issues related to child sexual abuse."

Rights watchdogs have repeatedly called on the Afghan government to immediately enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law and increase law enforcement efforts against human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of children.

No victim support

Although the man who raped Sweeta in Sheberghan has been sentenced to 15 years by a court in Kabul, her post-trauma suffering has not diminished - neither the government nor the rapist have paid any financial compensation to ease the victim family's difficulties, and Sweeta has not received any rehabilitative and/or mental support to help her return to a normal life.

"The government does not run a formal victim support fund to assist victims like Sweeta," Lal Gul Lal said.

Afghanistan's legal system envisions individual compensatory mechanisms in which only offenders - not the government - must pay financial compensation to victims.
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Viagra and military secrets at the Bagram bazaar
by Thibauld Malterre Sun Jun 15, 1:23 AM ET
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AFP) - "I don't really know what it is for," says a salesman with some embarrassment, despite the explicit illustrations on the bottle of "Long Love Spray".

Alongside it on the shelf of a tiny shop in the bazaar at Bagram is a "special sex" gel as well as distinctive blue Viagra pills that are almost impossible to find in the regular pharmacies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

The bazaar at Bagram, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul and a few hundred metres (feet) from the country's biggest US military base, is stocked with a range of similarly risque Asian and American products that arrive via Pakistan.

It is a regular Ali Baba's cave -- and the 40 thieves are probably not far away for among the goods on sale, which include routine items such as food, hygiene products and clothes, are some "from inside" that have somehow made it off the base through layers of security.

"We get them from inside the base and we sell them more cheaply, both to Afghans and to the international soldiers, but we make the foreigners pay more," says Obaid, who has been working here for eight months.

He offers some apparently authentic Oakley brand sunglasses at a tenth of the real price. He is not interested in making a profit, he says, because he is not the owner of the shop.

"I earn about 100 dollars a month. What I would like is to work inside the base because even as a housekeeper I would get at least 300 dollars," he said.

Some of the items are innocent enough, such as toothpaste and razor blades. Others are more unusual considering the context and include food supplements for bodybuilding, walking sticks and a Christmas tree with lights.

There are new sports shoes, though they are fakes, and used ones that are genuine and probably sold by or stolen from their owners, along with folding camp beds for just 15 dollars each.

Prices, already low, are always negotiable especially if one is accompanied by an Afghan.

Another shopkeeper, Ali Mohammad, smiles and offers soft drinks popular with US soldiers. In a corner is a palette of non-alcoholic beer, the only kind the soldiers are allowed to drink and which also comes "from inside".

Not everything comes from the base, however, with some of the stuff on sale, including military equipment, said to have been intercepted on the road to Bagram from the Pakistan port where they are offloaded in containers.

Either in the tribal zones on the Pakistan side, or in the famous Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, truck drivers are regularly held up by Pashtun tribesmen who sometimes steal entire loads.

Most of the shops around the Bagram base display similar products -- such as Leatherman Crunch tools for 20 dollars each (normal price 65-90 dollars) -- leaving little doubt that they are from the same source.

The presence of some items causes concern, however, such as articles of US military uniforms, including sand-coloured hiking books that still bear the name of their former owners.

If you need a different size, the salesman takes just five minutes to come up with another pair that he offers to sell for less than 30 dollars.

"Sometimes the Afghan authorities create problems for us, like asking where the shoes came from. That's why I keep a lot of the merchandise with me," said one shopkeeper as a convoy of US Humvees churned up dust on a road nearby oblivious to the questionable trade being conducted on the doorstep of the base.

Further along are US Army-issue camouflage trousers for 20 dollars, although the next shopkeeper is more cautious, saying: "Some people from television came and did a report and after that the police started putting their noses in our business.

"They confiscated some of our things which are they keeping for themselves," he says in anger, holding in his hand a desert-coloured US Army hat.

Nawed, who offers second-hand USB flash drives, said: "The Afghans who work inside the base take things out on the quiet. Sometimes they carry them on their bodies, sometimes they hide them in boxes."

On his laptop, he flicks through the contents of some of the flash discs and it clear that whoever took them from their owners did not even bother to erase the contents.

One, bought for just a handful of dollars, contains US military documents marked "not to be made public" that advise soldiers working in Afghanistan against using terms like "islamo-fascism" or "clash of civilisations".

Another file lists the names and numbers of officers in charge of military-led construction teams across the country.

A Word document lists the tasks one soldier wants to complete during his mission, including "getting all my team home safe and sound," "training to improve my physical condition" and "reading the Bible every day".
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America's prison for terrorists often held the wrong men
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers June 15, 2008
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The militants crept up behind Mohammed Akhtiar as he squatted at the spigot to wash his hands before evening prayers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

They shouted "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — as one of them hefted a metal mop squeezer into the air, slammed it into Akhtiar's head and sent thick streams of blood running down his face.

Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as "the worst of the worst."

But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo's Camp Four who hissed "infidel" and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn't: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.

"He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government," a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.

An eight-month McClatchy investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that Akhtiar was one of dozens of men — and, according to several officials, perhaps hundreds — whom the U.S. has wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.

McClatchy interviewed 66 released detainees, more than a dozen local officials — primarily in Afghanistan — and U.S. officials with intimate knowledge of the detention program. The investigation also reviewed thousands of pages of U.S. military tribunal documents and other records.

This unprecedented compilation shows that most of the 66 were low-level Taliban grunts, innocent Afghan villagers or ordinary criminals. At least seven had been working for the U.S.-backed Afghan government and had no ties to militants, according to Afghan local officials. In effect, many of the detainees posed no danger to the United States or its allies.

The investigation also found that despite the uncertainty about whom they were holding, U.S. soldiers beat and abused many prisoners.

Prisoner mistreatment became a regular feature in cellblocks and interrogation rooms at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, the two main way stations in Afghanistan en route to Guantanamo.

While he was held at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, Akhtiar said, "When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, 'What is my crime?' the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs."

The McClatchy reporting also documented how U.S. detention policies fueled support for extremist Islamist groups. For some detainees who went home far more militant than when they arrived, Guantanamo became a school for jihad, or Islamic holy war.

Of course, Guantanamo also houses Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, who along with four other high-profile detainees faces military commission charges. Cases also have been opened against 15 other detainees for assorted offenses, such as attending al Qaida training camps.

But because the Bush administration set up Guantanamo under special rules that allowed indefinite detention without charges or federal court challenge, it's impossible to know how many of the 770 men who've been held there were terrorists.

A series of White House directives placed "suspected enemy combatants" beyond the reach of U.S. law or the 1949 Geneva Conventions' protections for prisoners of war. President Bush and Congress then passed legislation that protected those detention rules.

However, the administration's attempts to keep the detainees beyond the law came crashing down last week.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that detainees have the right to contest their cases in federal courts, and that a 2006 act of Congress forbidding them from doing so was unconstitutional. "Some of these petitioners have been in custody for six years with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention," the court said in its 5-4 decision, overturning Bush administration policy and two acts of Congress that codified it.

One former administration official said the White House's initial policy and legal decisions "probably made instances of abuse more likely. ... My sense is that decisions taken at the top probably sent a signal that the old rules don't apply ... certainly some people read what was coming out of Washington: The gloves are off, this isn't a Geneva world anymore."

Like many others who previously worked in the White House or Defense Department, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal and political sensitivities of the issue.

McClatchy's interviews are the most ever conducted with former Guantanamo detainees by a U.S. news organization. The issue of detainee backgrounds has previously been reported on by other media outlets, but not as comprehensively.

McClatchy also in many cases did more research than either the U.S. military at Guantanamo, which often relied on secondhand accounts, or the detainees' lawyers, who relied mainly on the detainees' accounts.

The Pentagon declined to discuss the findings. It issued a statement Friday saying that military policy always has been to treat detainees humanely, to investigate credible complaints of abuse and to hold people accountable. The statement says that an al Qaida manual urges detainees to lie about prison conditions once they're released. "We typically do not respond to each and every allegation of abuse made by past and present detainees," the statement said.

LITTLE INTELLIGENCE VALUE
The McClatchy investigation found that top Bush administration officials knew within months of opening the Guantanamo detention center that many of the prisoners there weren't "the worst of the worst." From the moment that Guantanamo opened in early 2002, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White said, it was obvious that at least a third of the population didn't belong there.

Of the 66 detainees whom McClatchy interviewed, the evidence indicates that 34 of them, about 52 percent, had connections with militant groups or activities. At least 23 of those 34, however, were Taliban foot soldiers, conscripts, low-level volunteers or adventure-seekers who knew nothing about global terrorism.

Only seven of the 66 were in positions to have had any ties to al Qaida's leadership, and it isn't clear that any of them knew any terrorists of consequence.

If the former detainees whom McClatchy interviewed are any indication — and several former high-ranking U.S. administration and defense officials said in interviews that they are — most of the prisoners at Guantanamo weren't terrorist masterminds but men who were of no intelligence value in the war on terrorism.

Far from being an ally of the Taliban, Mohammed Akhtiar had fled to Pakistan shortly after the puritanical Islamist group took power in 1996, the senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. The Taliban burned down Akhtiar's house after he refused to ally his tribe with their government.

The Americans detained Akhtiar, the intelligence officer said, because they were given bad information by another Afghan who'd harbored a personal vendetta against Akhtiar going back to his time as a commander against the Soviet military during the 1980s.

"In some of these cases, tribal feuds and political feuds have played a big role" in people getting sent to Guantanamo, the intelligence officer said.

He didn't want his name used, partly because he didn't want to offend the Western officials he works with and partly because Afghan intelligence officers are assassinated regularly.

"There were Afghans being sent to Guantanamo because of bad intelligence," said Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for security from 2002 to early 2004. "In the beginning, everyone was trying to give intelligence to the Americans ... the Americans were taking action without checking this information."

Nusrat Khan was in his 70s when American troops shoved him into an isolation cell at Bagram in the spring of 2003. They blindfolded him, put earphones on his head and tied his hands behind his back for almost four weeks straight, Khan said.

By the time he was taken out of the cell, Khan — who'd had at least two strokes years before he was arrested and was barely able to walk — was half-mad and couldn't stand without help. Khan said that he was taken to Guantanamo on a stretcher.

Several Afghan officials, including the country's attorney general, later said that Khan, who spent more than three years at Guantanamo, wasn't a threat to anyone; he'd been turned in as an insurgent leader because of decades-old rivalries with competing Afghan militias.

Ghalib Hassan was an Interior Ministry-appointed district commander in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, a man who'd risked his life to help the U.S.-backed government. Din Mohammed, the former governor of that province and now the governor of Kabul, said there was no question that local tribal leaders, offended by Hassan's brusque style, fed false information about him to local informants used by American troops.

The Pentagon declined requests to make top officials, including the secretary of defense, available to respond to McClatchy's findings. The defense official in charge of detainee affairs, Sandra Hodgkinson, refused to speak with McClatchy.

The Pentagon's only response to a series of written questions from McClatchy, and to a list of 63 of the 66 former detainees interviewed for this story, was a three-paragraph statement.

"These unlawful combatants have provided valuable information in the struggle to protect the U.S. public from an enemy bent on murder of innocent civilians," Col. Gary Keck said in the statement. He provided no examples.

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, until recently the commanding officer at Guantanamo, said that detainees had supplied crucial information about al Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

"Included with the folks that were brought here in 2002 were, by and large, the main leadership of al Qaida and the Taliban," he said in a phone interview.

Buzby agreed, however, that some detainees were from the bottom rung.

"It's all about developing the mosaic ... there's value to both ends of the spectrum," he said.

Former senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials, however, said McClatchy's conclusions squared with their own observations.

"As far as intelligence value from those in Gitmo, I got tired of telling the people writing reports based on their interrogations that their material was essentially worthless," a U.S. intelligence officer said in an e-mail, using the military's slang for Guantanamo.

Guantanamo authorities periodically sent analysts at the U.S. Central Command "rap sheets on various prisoners and asked our assessment whether they merited continued confinement," said the analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Over about three years, I assessed around 40 of these individuals, mostly Afghans. ... I only can remember recommending that ONE should be kept at GITMO."

'WAR COUNCIL' REWRITES DETAINEE LAW
At a Pentagon briefing in the spring of 2002, a senior Army intelligence officer expressed doubt about the entire intelligence-gathering process.

"He said that we're not getting anything, and his thought was that we're not getting anything because there might not be anything to get," said Donald J. Guter, a retired rear admiral who was the head of the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps at the time.

Many detainees were "swept up in the pot" by large operations conducted by Afghan troops allied with the Americans, said former Army Secretary White, who's now a partner at DKRW Energy, an energy company in Houston.

One of the Afghan detainees at Guantanamo, White recalled, was more than 80 years old.

Army Spc. Eric Barclais, who was a military intelligence interrogator at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from September 2002 through January 2003, told military investigators in sworn testimony that "We recommended lots of folks be released from (Bagram), but they were not. I believe some people ended up at (Guantanamo) that had no business being sent there."

"You have to understand some folks were detained because they got turned in by neighbors or family members who were feuding with them," Barclais said. "Yes, they had weapons. Everyone had weapons. Some were Soviet-era and could not even be fired."

A former Pentagon official told McClatchy that he was shocked at times by the backgrounds of men held at Guantanamo.

" 'Captured with weapon near the Pakistan border?' " the official said. "Are you kidding me?"

"The screening, the understanding of who we had was horrible," he said. "That's why we had so many useless people at Gitmo."

In 2002, a CIA analyst interviewed several dozen detainees at Guantanamo and reported to senior National Security Council officials that many of them didn't belong there, a former White House official said.

Despite the analyst's findings, the administration made no further review of the Guantanamo detainees. The White House had determined that all of them were enemy combatants, the former official said.

Rather than taking a closer look at whom they were holding, a group of five White House, Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers who called themselves the "War Council" devised a legal framework that enabled the administration to detain suspected "enemy combatants" indefinitely with few legal rights.

The threat of new terrorist attacks, the War Council argued, allowed President Bush to disregard or rewrite American law, international treaties and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to permit unlimited detentions and harsh interrogations.

The group further argued that detainees had no legal right to defend themselves, and that American soldiers — along with the War Council members, their bosses and Bush — should be shielded from prosecution for actions that many experts argue are war crimes.

With the support of Bush, Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the group shunted aside the military justice system, and in February 2002, Bush suspended the legal protection for detainees spelled out in Common Article Three of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, which outlaws degrading treatment and torture.

The Bush administration didn't launch a formal review of the detentions until a 2004 Supreme Court decision forced it to begin holding military tribunals at Guantanamo. The Supreme Court ruling last week said that the tribunals were deeply flawed, but it didn't close them down.

In late 2004, Pentagon officials decided to restrict further interrogations at Guantanamo to detainees who were considered "high value" for their suspected knowledge of terrorist groups or their potential of returning to the battlefield, according to Matthew Waxman, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, the Defense Department's head official for detainee matters, from August 2004 to December 2005.

"Maybe three-quarters of the detainees by 2005 were no longer regularly interrogated," said Waxman, who's now a law professor at Columbia University.

At that time, about 500 men were still being held at Guantanamo.

So far, the military commissions have publicly charged only six detainees — less than 1 percent of the more than 770 who've been at Guantanamo — with direct involvement in the 9-11 terrorist attacks; they dropped the charges in one case. Those few cases are now in question after the high court's ruling Thursday.

About 500 detainees — nearly two out of three — have been released.

During a military review board hearing at Guantanamo, Mohammed Akhtiar had some advice for the U.S. officers seated before him.

"I wish," he said, "that the United States would realize who the bad guys are and who the good guys are."

HOW FOOT SOLDIERS, FARMERS GOT SWEPT UP
How did the United States come to hold so many farmers and goat herders among the real terrorists at Guantanamo? Among the reasons:

After conceding control of the country to U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, top Taliban and al Qaida leaders escaped to Pakistan, leaving the battlefield filled with ragtag groups of volunteers and conscripts who knew nothing about global terrorism.

The majority of the detainees taken to Guantanamo came into U.S. custody indirectly, from Afghan troops, warlords, mercenaries and Pakistani police who often were paid cash by the number and alleged importance of the men they handed over. Foot soldiers brought in hundreds of dollars, but commanders were worth thousands. Because of the bounties — advertised in fliers that U.S. planes dropped all over Afghanistan in late 2001 — there was financial incentive for locals to lie about the detainees' backgrounds. Only 33 percent of the former detainees — 22 out of 66 — whom McClatchy interviewed were detained initially by U.S. forces. Of those 22, 17 were Afghans who'd been captured around mid-2002 or later as part of the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, a fight that had more to do with counter-insurgency than terrorism.

American soldiers and interrogators were susceptible to false reports passed along by informants and officials looking to settle old grudges in Afghanistan, a nation that had experienced more than two decades of occupation and civil war before U.S. troops arrived. This meant that Americans were likely to arrest Afghans who had no significant connections to militant groups. For example, of those 17 Afghans whom the U.S. captured in mid-2002 or later, at least 12 of them were innocent of the allegations against them, according to interviews with Afghan intelligence and security officials.

Detainees at Guantanamo had no legal venue in which to challenge their detentions. The only mechanism set up to evaluate their status, an internal tribunal in the late summer of 2004, rested on the decisions of rotating panels of three U.S. military officers. The tribunals made little effort to find witnesses who weren't present at Guantanamo, and detainees were in no position to challenge the allegations against them.
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Sardar Daud's grave located in east of Kabul spot
(PAN) Habib Rahman Ibrahimi  Jun 15, 2008
KABUL-Graves of President Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan and his family members have been located in the east of Kabul city.

The graves were found after a one-month investigation by a commission assigned according to a Presidential decree.

Member of the commission and advisor to the information and culture minister Dr Haleem Tanwir told Pajhwok Afghan News they found the graves behind the Kabul Military University in the east of the city.

He said the graves were found after one month of investigation across the capital.

President Daud along with his family members was killed by Afghan Communist Party soldiers in April 1978 in a bloody coup when the soldiers broke into the Presidential Palace.

The location of his grave was unknown so far.

Tanwir said the graves were located with the help of former intelligence workers of the communist regime.

He said the information and culture ministry will start building a shrine on President Daud's grave next week.

President Daud rose to throne as the founder of the Republic of Afghanistan after toppling his cousin King Zahir Shah, ending the monarchy forever.
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Freed Taliban infiltrate rural areas
The Globe and Mail KATHERINE O'NEILL From Monday's Globe and Mail June 15, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN-About 400 Taliban militants freed during a spectacular prison break in Kandahar have flooded into nearby restive rural areas patrolled by Canadian troops, and even as far east as Pakistan, according to a senior insurgent commander.

The 40-year-old Taliban leader told The Globe and Mail by telephone Sunday that a small fleet of motorbikes and cars was waiting for the prisoners Friday after about 30 insurgents used suicide attacks, rocket-propelled grenades and guns to break into the Sarpoza Provincial Prison about 9:30 p.m. after blowing open the front gates.

Most of the Taliban prisoners were first taken to villages in the turbulent Panjwai district and given money, the commander said. From there they scattered in different directions, including nearby Helmand province, Kabul and Pakistan. "Many of them have gone to their homes."

Locals living in the Panjwai district, a rural area west of Kandahar that Canadian troops have fought hard to keep out of insurgent hands, confirmed seeing numerous former Taliban prisoners in their villages.
"On Saturday morning, when we came out from our houses, we saw several Taliban they were very happy, smiling and laughing," said a 33-year-old taxi driver from Talukan, a village about 45 kilometres southwest of Kandahar. The man, who didn't want to be identified, said he knew of least four men who were injured in the escape. He said they received medical treatment in the village.

The brazen prison break is a significant victory for the Taliban and has raised serious questions about the Afghan and NATO security effort in southern Afghanistan, a hotbed of insurgency activity.
Before Canadian troops could arrive to secure the area on Friday, the bulk of the prison population, about 1,100 people in total, was already gone. In addition to the 400 Taliban suspects in the prison, about 600 common criminals escaped.

Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan said that within minutes of the prison attack, NATO had surveillance units in the sky scanning the area for fugitives.

The jail is about 30 kilometres from the main international base at Kandahar airfield, and once Canadian soldiers became aware of the seriousness of the attack, they arrived at the prison within 40 minutes, Brigadier-General Denis Thompson told reporters.

But the inmates were long gone by then. "They escaped the prison very fast — within a few minutes," Kandahar Police Chief Syed Aqa Saqib said.

President Hamid Karzai threatened Sunday to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to combat high-level Taliban militants, including Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani warlord aligned with the Taliban.

"[If they] come and kill Afghans and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to do the same," Mr. Karzai said. "Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house. And the other fellow, Mullah Omar of Pakistan, should know the same."

While Mr. Karzai has long asked for international and Pakistani forces to target Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, this is the first time the frustrated leader has said Afghanistan might go in on its own.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Afghan-Pakistan border would be too difficult to protect even if Pakistan put its entire army there.

"Neither do we interfere in anyone else's matters, nor will we allow anyone to interfere in our territorial limits and our affairs," Mr. Gilani said. "We want a stable Afghanistan. It is in our interest."

General Rick Hillier, the outgoing Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has acknowledged that Friday's assault on Sarpoza was a setback, but added it will not likely raise the threat level because Afghanistan is already a dangerous mission for Canada's 2,500 troops.

Kandahar residents are still reeling from the bold attack on the prison, Kandahar province's largest, with many people staying off the streets and several shops remaining closed.

In recent months, Afghanistan's second largest city, despite being the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, had become more secure and the number of violent incidents had dropped.

Speculation is rampant in the city that the insurgents must have had help from either Afghan police or prison guards in pulling off the breakout. At the time of the assault, the jail was being guarded by about 30 Afghans, almost half of whom were killed on Friday. Prison officials have already been questioned by government authorities about the attack.

"Lots of people think this was an inside job," said Rangina Hamidi, a 31-year-old Kandahar resident and prominent women's activist.

Her family fled Afghanistan in 1981. She grew up in the United States, but returned to Kandahar in 2003. Now, in light of Friday's attack, Ms. Hamidi is not sure if she'll stay much longer.

She was visiting relatives who live near Sarpoza when the fighting broke out at the prison. "This is the closest I've been to a war zone," she said in an interview. "I literally saw bullets fly over my head. I'm scared for the first time since I've been here."

Ms. Hamidi wants to see more international coalition forces on the streets of Kandahar.

"Friday was a major setback. The way things are going, I don't think it will get any better."

Peter MacKay, Canada's Defence Minister, told CTV's Question Period Sunday that "we have to call for calm at this time and that means speaking with President Karzai as well as officials inside Pakistan."

Mr. MacKay said Ottawa has always been "very frank about the need for  the co-operation of the surrounding countries, most notably Pakistan."

"The Pakistan government is very aware, particularly in the south, of the insurgency that is coming from their country into Afghanistan and that has to be addressed," he added.

With reports from The Canadian Press, Associated Press and Steven Chase in Ottawa
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Bush: Afghanistan Is On 'Freedom's March'
Sky News, UK  Monday June 16, 2008
George Bush has told Sky News that the development of democracy in Afghanistan is a march for freedom, which the US is involved in for both its own security and moral reasons.

"This isn't the American Empire, the British Empire or Coalition Empire," he said in an interview with Sky News' political editor Adam Boulton.

"This is freedom's march. And freedom has had a way of taking hold in some of the places where people have never given freedom a chance."

The US President and his wife Laura were interviewed exclusively by Boulton during their visit to Britain.

It is the first time during his presidency that he has given a broadcast interview to UK media alongside the First Lady.

Mr Bush said that when considering the war in Afghanistan he had asked himself the question: "Does it matter whether or not the free world helps Afghanistan develop into a democracy, an Afghan democracy?

"I've come to the conclusion, Laura's come to the conclusion, that it does matter," he said.

"It matters for our own security as we learnt on September 11, it also matters from a humanitarian perspective.

"The fundamental question facing, you know, the free world in the 21st Century is going to be: do you want to be just comfortable and couldn't care less about what takes place in another part of the world, or do you feel an obligation to help?

"That's the question as we head into the 21st Century and I've made the stand for America that, not only we will be engaged, we'll be engaged effectively for our own security as well as for moral reasons."
When asked whether he worried about his popularity, Mr Bush said sticking to his principles were more important than poll results.

"Popularity is fleeting and I want it to be said about George W Bush that when he finished his presidency he looked in the mirror and (saw) a man who did not compromise his core principles for the sake of politics or the Gallup poll, or the latest whatever, and you can't lead in this world if you chase something as temporary as a popularity poll."

On Iraq, Mr Bush said the US invasion was "the right thing to do", despite the deaths of innocent civilians.

"When anybody dies in a war, of course it weighs on my conscience.

"On the other hand getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do and I'm not going to back off one inch on that.

"The world is better off without him and I'm sorry that innocent civilians died in Iraq but I want you to remember, hundreds of thousands died when Saddam Hussein was leading that country.

"War is brutal, I wish we didn't have war, but I believe we're now on the way to peace."
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Hekmatyar denies peace-talk rumours
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008 
Notorious ex-Jihadi leader accuses Karzai of failing to provide security
FORMER Jihadi leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who the United Nations accuses of supporting the Taliban, has once again denied rumours that he is holding peace-talks with the government.

The leader of the hard-line Islamic group Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) said on Sunday that he would not talk to President Hamid Karzai’s administration, which he accused of failing to provide security on the streets of the capital Kabul.

The release of a key HIA member from Pul-e-Charkhi prison last week sparked rumours that the government was in talks with the rebel leader.

The Afghan government freed Dr Ghairat Bahir, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan between 1994 and 1996 and HIA's political representative in Islamabad, after he was transferred from the US military base in Bagram.

Hekmatyar denied Bahir's release was part of a deal struck between HIA and Kabul.

He urged Afghans to continue their Jihad against foreign soldiers in Afghansitan and accused Laura Bush of trying to stoke sectarian tension in the country by visiting Bamiyan last week.

He said the US had made Pashtun-dominated provinces a battlefield while pledging millions of dollars to re-build the Shia-dominated region of Bamiyan.

He also accused the opposition alliance, the National Front, of being a "product of Iranian and Russian meddling".

HIA, which Hekmatyar founded in the mid-1970s, was long-considered one of the most radical Islamist groups before the emergence of the Taliban.

In 2003, the US government blacklisted HIA a "terrorist" organisation and the UN put its leader’s name on a list of people accused of supporting the Taliban.
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Refugees told to clear out for new town
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008 
Camp's residents demand new homes after violent clashes with police
REFUGEES threatened with eviction from a camp in Herat have told the government to find them another place to live after the city's mayor tried to destroy their homes.

The refugees say they cannot return to their home towns because of insecurity, drought and poverty, and will only leave the Shaidai camp if the government finds them replacement homes in the province.

Herat’s chief of police, Muhammad Raqiq Mujadidi, said the refugees must leave the camp because the province’s authorities want to build a town on the camp's land.

The land dispute, which has already lasted several years, intensified two days ago when Herat's mayor provoked outrage among the camp’s refugees by attempting to knock down their shops and homes.
 
Violent clashes between police and refugees wounded seven policemen and about 15 camp residents.

The refugees left their home provinces of Ghor and Badghis during the Taliban regime because of widespread drought and poverty in the area.
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U.S. is uneasy as Pakistan bargains with militants
American and NATO officials fear that truce negotiations in tribal areas will result in more violence in Afghanistan.
By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer June 15, 2008
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN-The jirgas, or traditional tribal gatherings, continue late into the night.

And every few weeks, from some remote corner of Pakistan's untamed frontier region, word filters out: Another truce has been struck between the government and a local warlord who commands a band of pro-Taliban fighters.

For nearly two months, Pakistan's new government has been engaged in intensive negotiations with Islamic militants who use the rugged tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan as both a sanctuary and a springboard for attacks.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. officials have voiced increasing concern over the nature and scope of such negotiations and the resulting agreements. Under them, militant factions have received significant concessions, including the release of dozens of prisoners and the granting of what is in effect amnesty to fugitive commanders who were on most-wanted lists.

The truces, analysts and officials say, reflect Pakistan's determination to protect its own interests, even as it seeks to reassure the United States that it remains a committed ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Of paramount importance to the new government is halting suicide bombings and other attacks in Pakistan. Far less urgency is accorded to stemming the flow of fighters and weapons into Afghanistan, as the West wants Pakistan to do.

NATO says it has tracked a notable increase in cross-border insurgent attacks in Afghanistan since the truce negotiations began.

The state of hair-trigger tension along the frontier was evident in a chaotic clash last week in which Pakistan says 11 of its troops were killed by American airstrikes. The U.S. military, which did not acknowledge responsibility for the deaths, released video that it said showed the strikes were in response to insurgent fire directed at U.S.-backed Afghan forces. The U.S. military is investigating the incident.
Despite steady activity, the new government's effort to make deals with militants is still in its nascent stages.

No formal accord has been signed yet with the main umbrella group of the Pakistani Taliban, led by a notorious commander named Baitullah Mahsud, based in the South Waziristan tribal agency. Government forces, though, have been giving his fighters a wide berth under informal understandings already reported to be in place.

"The army is never in his territory. When they claim they are, it is only public relations," said retired Brig. Gen. Mahmood Shah, now a Peshawar-based analyst.

'Jihad' would continue
In a symbol of his wider influence, Mahsud has signed off on a handful of pacts formalized elsewhere in the tribal areas and in Pakistan's volatile northwest, according to officials familiar with the negotiations.
Mahsud, who is blamed by Pakistani authorities for attacks, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has declared that his fighters would not feel bound to refrain from attacking Western troops in Afghanistan, even if they stopped striking Pakistani targets.

The previously reclusive Mahsud last month summoned Pakistani journalists to a news conference at his tribal redoubt, in which he asserted that jihad against the U.S. in Afghanistan remained a praiseworthy aim.

Longtime observers of the conflict in the tribal areas note a striking disconnect between U.S. policy aims in Pakistan and the sentiments of ordinary Pakistanis, particularly in the northwest, where the militancy has its deepest roots.

"Overall, the perception is that this is a war we should not be fighting," said Rustum Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan. "Are we supposed to let our own territory burn because NATO would be unhappy if we make peace arrangements there?"

In the last year, Pakistan suffered a series of suicide attacks by Islamic militants, at a pace that averaged more than one a week. The attacks were often aimed at government and security installations, but killed and wounded hundreds of civilians as well.

The pervasive sense of insecurity in cities and towns eroded the already flagging popularity of U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan's military campaign against Islamic militants, with its steady toll of troop casualties and the occasional humiliating mass surrender of government forces, also sapped army morale.

Since parliamentary elections in February brought the new ruling coalition to power, suicide bombings have trailed off but not halted. This month, a bomb exploded outside the Danish Embassy in the capital, Islamabad, killing six people. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Al Qaeda factor
Pakistan's new government says that the truce overtures are aimed at homegrown groups, known as local Taliban, and only those who are willing to lay down their weapons.

But some militant commanders who already have reached agreements with the government are believed to have links with Al Qaeda, or at least are sympathetic to their aims.

One of them is Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, whose fighters in the North-West Frontier Province's Swat Valley, 100 miles north of Islamabad, agreed last month to halt attacks against government troops in exchange for the imposition of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the scenic valley, with Islamic clerics and scholars advising civil judges.

In many areas, observers and analysts say, army commanders are negotiating directly with the militants. Tribal elders are involved in the process to a degree, they say, but no longer serve as crucial intermediaries and arbiters.

"The tribal structure has really broken down," said Afrasiab Khattak, a leader of the secular Awami National Party that won elections in the North-West Frontier Province this year.

Still, the truces are being discussed and debated in the tribal jirgas, the traditional decision-making forums in which endless cups of sweet tea mask sometimes-bitter disagreements.

Those familiar with the proceedings say heated arguments, though usually couched in indirect and respectful language, have broken out over whether the militants or the Pakistani army can be trusted to stick to the terms of any agreement. Throughout the tribal areas, villagers have suffered at the hands of both.

Pashtun tribes are the overwhelming majority in the border belt, though a minority in the country as a whole. Marshaling a powerful sense of historic grievance, Khattak's party has tapped into Pashtun nationalist sentiment that it hopes may supplant Islamist militancy.

In a symbolic but freighted gesture, the party, which is also a partner in the new central government, recently secured a pledge to change the name of the North-West Frontier Province, a British colonial holdover, to Pashtunkhwa, or the place of the Pashtuns.

Many longtime observers of the tribal areas, however, believe there is no sophisticated strategic planning by the central coalition government, which is already splintered after only two months in office. There are particularly loud complaints about Rehman Malik, the ranking Interior Ministry official who has been given broad authority in dealings with the militants.

"He doesn't even understand Pashtu," scoffed Khalid Aziz, a former provincial chief secretary who runs a think tank in Peshawar. "What insights can he offer about this area, and this situation, which is so complex?"

Those complexities are deepened by the fact that dealings with the semi-autonomous tribal areas are supposed to come under the purview of the president, a post still held by Musharraf.

His foes are seeking to strip him of most of his powers, but in the meantime, the ill-defined lines of authority are creating paralysis.

Some officials say it may be too late to stop militancy from encroaching on Peshawar, the provincial capital.

"The writ of the state has grown very weak, and warlordism has filled the vacuum," Khattak said. "With these truces or without them, this will not be an easy process to reverse."
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More smuggled children arrive in UK as Afghan violence escalates
• Hundreds flee threats and pressure to join Taliban
• Social workers fear many fall victim to exploitation
Guardian Unlimited - Politics - This Week Robert Booth Monday June 16 2008
The number of Afghan children discovered being smuggled through Dover has risen dramatically in the last 12 months after a surge in violence between Taliban and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Kent county council picked up 265 smuggled Afghan children between April 2007 and March 2008 - a 55% increase on the previous year. Close to half of all foreign children suspected of being trafficked or smuggled through Britain's busiest ports now come from Afghanistan.

Kent's reception facilities are full, mostly with Afghan boys fleeing violence, and one in five go missing after being taken into care. The authorities suspect they enter the hidden economy or fall into exploitation elsewhere in Britain.

Death threats from the Taliban and pressure to undertake suicide bombing missions are among the reasons for fleeing given by the Afghan children.

Speaking at a council reception centre in rural Kent, Khalid, the 17-year-old son of a Taliban farmer killed two years ago, explained that his brother threatened to kill him if he did not join the Taliban too.

"I was forced to leave Afghanistan because of pressure from my brother and other members of the Taliban to join their forces and take part in suicide bombings," he told the Guardian. "I was against the idea, but I had no choice. I had to run away."

The influx extends across south-east England, and the number of Afghan children discovered being smuggled through Suffolk's ports has doubled since 2006. The figures, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, count only smuggled children who were detected. Countless others have slipped into the country unnoticed.

Kent county council's chief executive, Peter Gilroy, believes the influx of Afghan boys is clear a symptom of growing instability after six years of war in Afghanistan. "You can guaratee that when the numbers of Afghan children arriving here go up it is to do with an escalation in hostilities," he said.

According to figures due to be released by Human Rights Watch later this month, 1,633 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2007, up from 929 in 2006. As many as 950 were killed by the Taliban and 434 by Nato forces, including 321 in air strikes and 113 by ground forces, the organisation said.

Khalid's maternal uncle paid an agent to smuggle him to safety. He said he had not known his destination would be Britain until he arrived here. "I had a horrendous journey," he said. "We were forced to sleep out in the snow and it was really freezing cold in the woodlands in the mountains. The agents mainly fitted us in the backs of lorries. When we got to the channel we were told that after an hour or so we had to get out because then we would be in England. The lorry went on to the boat and that's how we got across."

Haroon, a 14-year-old Afghan, fled violence in Afghanistan, where he lived with his maternal uncle, and arrived in Kent three months ago. His journey involved travelling in the backs of lorries through Iran and Turkey and sometimes going without food or drink for several days.

"We were involved in a family feud left to us by our grandparents," he said. "They killed my mum, they killed my dad and they killed other members of family. Because of that specific reason I ran away to come here. It took me eight months to travel. I have lost my toenails, as you can see. It was really severe conditions because the agents used to threaten us with knives."

The agents are people smugglers who are paid between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the level of safety they give the child on the journey, Kent officials believe. The boys are often told no more than that they will travel to Europe, and some have even less idea of their destination beyond neighbouring Iran. Karen Tatom, district manager for reception and assesment for Kent said the children arrive "at the very best hungry, at worst with broken limbs and serious scabies, bad enough for them to go to hospital".

Currently, one in five of the Afghan children who come into Kent's care disappear, although officials stress they often leave before the council has a chance to confirm that they are indeed children and not young adults. The reception centre in leafy west Kent is not secured, and when the Guardian visited, a 13-year-old boy who had arrived from, Peshawar on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, only 24 hours earlier was spotted on a mobile phone, arousing suspicions that he was arranging to be picked up at the gate. The children are free to play football in the grounds of the reception centre and there are piles of Afghan school textbooks and TVs in their rooms showing Indian or Afghan programmes.

"It matters to us [that they go missing]" said Bill Anderson, Kent's director of child social services. "These are young people who may be going off to somewhere they could be vulnerable. It ranges from social to economic and sexual exploitation, the same as other groups. I think the Afghans are probably the least vulnerable. They have the networks and contacts and they are an incredibly resilient group."

In total, 525 foreign asylum seeking children were taken into care in the county between last July and March this year - three times the rate of arrival of the previous three years.

Kent is among a group of local authorities calling on Whitehall to improve funding arrangements for the care of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum so they can reduce the number of children suspected of being trafficked or smuggled who go missing.

It is often hard to trace the smugglers, partly because the boys show them loyalty, according to Anderson. "We have a notion of these agents exploiting these kids, but a lot of these young people protect their agents because they see them as providing a valuable service," he said. "They sometimes see the agents the same way as shot-down pilots in the second world war saw resistance leaders who smuggled them over the border."

Among the 26 residents of Kent's reception centre are boys from Sierra Leone, Algeria, Iran and a group of Iraqis, including Sala, 16, from Kirkuk.

"Both my parents died and the terrorists tried to take advantage of me to get me involved in actions against my own country," Sala said. "I couldn't take such a step. That's why I was threatened and left. I was driven by car to the border with Turkey and then stayed in a flat there and then took four different lorries to get here. For the last time the agent fitted me just behind the axle in a box. I was in there for nine hours. It was so cold I couldn't keep awake. I am happy here but I am very worried about whether this country accepts my asylum claim. I hope they hear our voice and do something for us."
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Police arrest gang of bomb plotters
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 15 June 2008 
Explosives and remote controls seized from home in Herat
POLICE have arrested a group of five men accused of organising suicide attacks and roadside bombings in the western province of Herat.

Policemen arrested five men from their homes in the city of Herat and seized about 210kg of chemicals and explosives, and 10 remote controls used to trigger bombs, head of the province’s security department, Muhammad Juma Adil, said on Sunday.

Adil said the group planned to target government officials, Afghan soldiers and foreign troops with the explosives.

He said the five men were part of a rebel group led by the Taliban’s former spokesman, Abdul Manan Niazi.

All five suspects admitted receiving military training in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Adil said.
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Women boxers challenge Afghan culture
San Francisco Chronicle, USA Nick Meo, Chronicle Foreign Service Sunday, June 15, 2008
Kabul -Concord resident Tareq Shawl Azim says he always knew he would one day return to his parents' country to make it a better place.

Azim, whose parents left Afghanistan in 1979 after the Soviet invasion, boxed as a heavyweight at Fresno State, and has represented Afghanistan at the Asian Games, South Asian Games and Pan American Games. Azim believes he is an agent of reform by training females to box.

"I wanted to show the world that Afghanistan is ready for positive change through sports and the most male-dominated activity - boxing," he said. "There needs to be belief in all humanity in order for a country like Afghanistan to stand on its two feet. One foot being male and the other being female."

The sight of some 30 determined girls, many clad in head scarves, sparring and shadowboxing, is an extraordinary spectacle in a country where women are routinely harassed for taking part in sports and where some Islamic clerics have spoken out against any female performing in public as an athlete or entertainer.

The idea for the program occurred last year after several female soccer players expressed interest in the sport after watching American women box on television. Later that year, sports officials formed the Afghan Women's Boxing Federation, whose directors say their major obstacle is not conservative males but a shortage of cash. The girls, who train in the cavernous, dingy gymnasium of Kabul's National Stadium that was once the site of Taliban executions, has only four punching bags, three of which are homemade.

As a result, Azim asked Fairtex Gear Inc., a San Francisco company, to contribute boxing equipment. Azim had often trained at the company's downtown boxing ring and is known by the nickname "Pashtun" in reference to the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan.

In Kabul, the female boxers are part of a new generation that grew up with only dim memories of the stifling repression of women by the Taliban government ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
"Hit harder, go on, do it," said Shabnam Rahimi, a tiny 15-year-old teen as another girl pounded her outsize boxing gloves.

Shabnam and her sister, Fahima Rahimi, have been tapped as potential members of the national boxing team at the London Olympics in 2012 if women's boxing is approved as an Olympic sport. The Afghan team is expected to be created later this year.

In training, Fahima, 16, wears a modest black head scarf while 15-year-old Shabnam sports a British Union Jack bandana. Fahima hopes to be an airline pilot, and Shabnam says she wants to be a doctor.
"Boxing gives me confidence," Shabnam said. "It is good fun as well. Boxing is not just for boys. Girls can make better boxers, and why shouldn't girls do it? In Afghanistan now, we can do anything."

Both girls say their father didn't like the idea initially. But after meeting with Azim, he relented. All parents are consulted and asked to give permission before any training begins.

As in most countries, most of these teens are from poor neighborhoods. Many have families that have been scarred by past wars. For security reasons, they are picked up twice a week from schools across Kabul by a minibus and driven to the stadium.

"Rich families don't want daughters to be boxers," said Saber Sharify, who trains the girls along with Azim.

Sharify, 48, is Afghanistan's former boxing star. In 1982, he won a silver medal at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.

"Afghan women are brave," said Sharify. "Some people say it is very dangerous for girls to do boxing. Others say Afghanistan is not ready for this. These girls are proving those people wrong."

Sharify's family also fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, settling in neighboring Pakistan where he opened a boxing gym in Islamabad. Like Azim, he returned in 2004.

Sharify and Azim say they hope to expand the program later this year to the cities of Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif.

"This is about more than just sport," said Azim. "What you are seeing is social change in action."
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