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May 18, 2008 

NATO helicopter carrying Afghan governor hit
By Abdul Qodous Sat May 17, 12:41 PM ET
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Suspected Taliban insurgents fired at a NATO helicopter carrying a provincial governor in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, forcing it to make an emergency landing, a Reuters witness said.

Suicide blast kills 4, wounds 8 in S. Afghanistan
Associated Press May 18, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A police chief says a suicide bomber has killed four civilians and wounded eight other people in southern Afghanistan.

Soldier with US-led force killed in Afghanistan
Sun May 18, 8:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with a US-led military coalition and an Afghan "non-combatant" were killed Sunday when a bomb blew up their vehicle in southern Afghanistan, the force said.

Afghan army kills 15 militants in gunbattle: official
Sun May 18, 8:38 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Fifteen Taliban rebels were killed in an operation by the Afghan military in a troubled southwestern province, a military commander said here Sunday.

Kidnapped Indian, Nepalese free in Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Indian and a Nepalese national kidnapped a month ago were set free by their captors and walked for hours to reach their base in western Afghanistan on Sunday, one of them told AFP.

Afghan journalist appeals death sentence
By ALISA TANG and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Sun May 18, 9:11 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for insulting Islam denied the charges before an appeals court Sunday, saying he only confessed to questioning the religion's treatment of women because he was tortured.

Britain anxious about Afghanistan: party leader
Sat May 17, 2:59 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - There is "anxiety and trepidation" in Britain about the international effort in Afghanistan, and signs that things are getting worse, the Liberal Democrat leader said here Saturday.

Celebrating art in Afghanistan
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul  Sunday, 18 May 2008 04:02 UK BBC News
A work by one of the shortlisted artists
Sara Nabil is not your typical 14-year-old artist in Afghanistan.
Her gold-painted, glass sugar bowl with strips of material sprouting from the top symbolises the corrupt nature of marriage, she says.

AFGHANISTAN: “I sold my daughter to feed the rest of my family”
SHIBERGHAN, 18 May 2008 (IRIN) - Sayed Ali (not his real name) said he sold his 11-year-old daughter, Rabia, for US$2,000 to a man in Sheberghan city, Jawzjan Province in northern Afghanistan to feed his wife and three younger children.

What Japan should do to assist Afghanistan
The Yomiuri Shimbun May 18, 2008
Security measures and rehabilitation assistance must be further strengthened to prevent Afghanistan from slipping back into its previous existence as a hotbed for international terrorist groups.

NATO rejects UN rapporteur report on civilians' killing in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-18 19:34:07
KABUL, May 18 (Xinhua) -- The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Sunday described the UN rapporteur report of civilians killing by Afghanistan-based international forces as groundless and rejected it.

Australian troops confront tall poppies of Afghanistan
Brendan Nicholson The Age, Australia May 19, 2008
THE scene is surreal: an Australian soldier meets a curious child in an Afghan field awash with pink and white opium poppies.

Afghan kite-maker perfects his craft in Hollywood
By Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times  |  May 18, 2008
LOS ANGELES - There is just a breath of wind in North Hollywood. Basir Beria steps out of his shop on Lankershim Boulevard with a red fighter kite. He flings the kite into the air, and after a few nimble tugs, watches it whirl skyward.

Outbreak of rare disease kills 17 and infects 190
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 17 May 2008
Deadly disease that causes victims' bellies to balloon confirmed in west
THE OUTBREAK of a bizarre disease in the western province of Herat has killed 17 people and infected a further 190, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Kabul urges Islamabad to abandon talks with militants
Dawn By Our Correspondent  May 17, 2008
WASHINGON-Afghanistan has joined the growing chorus in Washington against Pakistan’s peace efforts in the tribal areas, urging it to abandon its talks with militants.

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NATO helicopter carrying Afghan governor hit
By Abdul Qodous Sat May 17, 12:41 PM ET
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Suspected Taliban insurgents fired at a NATO helicopter carrying a provincial governor in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, forcing it to make an emergency landing, a Reuters witness said.

The helicopter was flying Helmand governor Golab Mohammad Mangal to Musa Qala in Helmand province when it was hit close to the town, a former Taliban stronghold captured from the insurgents by Afghan, British and U.S. forces in December.

"I was the target of this attack. It was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan," Mangal told reporters traveling with him.

One of the rotor blades of the Chinook helicopter was damaged in the attack, but none of the passengers were injured. The governor, who had been due to attend a ceremony in the town was quickly flown back to the provincial capital in another aircraft.

The British military, which provides the bulk of foreign troops in Helmand, said only that a helicopter from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) made an unscheduled landing in the Musa Qala area and none of the passengers were hurt.

Afghan provincial officials are a frequent target of assassination attempts by the hardline Islamist Taliban in its campaign to oust the pro-Western government and drive out foreign troops.

Taliban fighters often shoot rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at the helicopters foreign troops rely on for transport in Afghanistan, but so far lack the surface-to-air missiles which would dramatically alter the balance of power.

Musa Qala took on a symbolic importance after British troops were forced out of the dusty market town in late 2006. The Taliban then seized it in February last year and it became the only town of any size held by the rebels.

BICYCLE BOMB
Elsewhere in the south, a bicycle bomb killed a child and wounded four people in the main southern city of Kandahar, police said.

The bomb was detonated by remote control as a police convoy passed through the centre of Kandahar, police official Mohammad Yaqub told Reuters. Three of those wounded were police, he said.

A NATO spokesman confirmed the attack, saying the child who was killed was nine years old.

Thousands of people have died in violence in Afghanistan in recent years as the Taliban has stepped up attacks despite the presence of more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military and nearly 150,000 Afghan security forces.

Taliban Islamist militants aim to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and drive foreign troops out of the country.

U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban's strict Islamist government after its leadership refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

In another incident, six civilians were wounded when Taliban insurgents fired rockets aimed at a government building in Ziruk district of Paktika province on Friday, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

The rockets missed their target and hit civilian houses instead. Foreign troops responded with air strikes killing four Taliban insurgents, he said.

Elsewhere, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban militants in the eastern province of Khost, the U.S. military said in a statement on Saturday.

The incident happened on Friday while Afghan and coalition forces were carrying out search operations targeting a Taliban extremist, the U.S. military said.

(Additional reporting by Ismail Sameem in Kandahar and Elyas Wahdat in Khost; Writing by Jonathon Burch and Jon Hemming; Editing by Richard Williams)
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Suicide blast kills 4, wounds 8 in S. Afghanistan
Associated Press May 18, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A police chief says a suicide bomber has killed four civilians and wounded eight other people in southern Afghanistan.

Helmand provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal says the target of Sunday's attack was a district police chief in the town of Musa Qala.

Andiwal said five policemen and three other civilians were wounded in the blast.

The bomber also died. The district police chief was not harmed.

U.S., British and Afghan troops pushed Taliban fighters out of Musa Qala late last year after the militants overran the area in early 2007 and held it for 10 months.

More than 1,200 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press.
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Soldier with US-led force killed in Afghanistan
Sun May 18, 8:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with a US-led military coalition and an Afghan "non-combatant" were killed Sunday when a bomb blew up their vehicle in southern Afghanistan, the force said.

Another soldier was seriously injured in the blast in the southern province of Zabul, the US-led coalition said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the extremist Taliban militia has carried out a series of similar attacks.

"One coalition service member and an Afghan non-combatant were killed and another service member was seriously injured Sunday when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device," the statement said.

The nationality of the soldier was not released but most of the troops serving in the US-led coalition are American nationals. The force also could not immediately release details about the "non-combatant."

The death of the soldier took to 54 the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year. Most died in hostile action.

Improvised bombs are the Taliban's most effective weapon and account for most casualties among foreign soldiers trying to help the Afghan government put down an extremist insurgency.
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Afghan army kills 15 militants in gunbattle: official
Sun May 18, 8:38 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Fifteen Taliban rebels were killed in an operation by the Afghan military in a troubled southwestern province, a military commander said here Sunday.

The Islamic rebels were killed in a gunbattle in the southwestern province of Badghis on Saturday, colonel Ghulam Sakhi told AFP.

"We killed 15 Taliban in face-to-face fighting," the colonel, who led the operation in the province's Ghormach district, said. Several other rebels were injured, he added, without giving a figure.

The rebels were killed during an operation launched in several provinces last week, the colonel said.

The Taliban are trying to take back power in an insurgency that has gained pace in the past two years with a string of suicide attacks, some of which Afghan security officials say show signs of Al-Qaeda influence.
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Kidnapped Indian, Nepalese free in Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Indian and a Nepalese national kidnapped a month ago were set free by their captors and walked for hours to reach their base in western Afghanistan on Sunday, one of them told AFP.

The intelligence chief of the western province of Herat said earlier that the pair, kidnapped April 21, had been freed in an overnight operation, but this was rejected by Indian national Muhammad Naeem.

Naeem told AFP the kidnappers had told him and his Nepalese colleague to leave late Saturday without giving any explanation.

He said they had walked eight hours to reach a police camp in Adraskan district, where they had been based before they were abducted.

"Last night we started and came here," he said. "There was no operation."

Naeem said he did not know who the kidnappers were or what their motive was.

The Indian said he and Nepali Gurong Karna Bahudur, about 55, had not been treated badly but found the conditions of their captivity difficult, including having to sleep on the floor and survive on only Afghan bread and tea.

The Indian logistics officer said he was in good health but had lost some weight.

Herat provincial intelligence chief Habibullah Habib told AFP earlier that his forces had located the place where the two were held and staged a raid overnight.

He said the pair had briefly been taken to the Shindand, a nearby district that has seen much Taliban activity, before being brought back.

"The operation was in Adraskan," he said, refusing to give details.

A man arrested two days after the kidnapping had confessed to his involvement, Habib said.

In Kabul, a spokesman for the national intelligence department also refused to give details of the release. "I can only confirm that they have been freed from the claws of the kidnappers," said Sayed Ansary.

The men had undergone medical check-ups after arriving back at base and preparations were being made to fly them home, said Sayed Ibrar Hashimi, head of security at the camp.

The men were both working for an Afghan company supplying police training camps, he said.

The pair went missing April 21 while travelling in Adraskan, which borders Iran. Their Afghan driver told authorities that gunmen had taken the foreigners but freed him.

The extremist Taliban militia, blamed for scores of such abductions over the past years, never claimed responsibility.

There has been a spike in recent months in the number of kidnappings by criminal gangs who want to extort ransoms and sometimes kill or maim their victims, who are most often Afghans, including children of prominent families.

Hashimi said he did not believe any ransom was paid to free the Indian and Nepalese and their release was due to efforts of the intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.

"Both are physically fit and mentally fit... as a whole they are feeling well," he said.

Afghanistan is trying to rebuild from the ruins of war that remained after a US-led invasion in late 2001 ended the Taliban's five-year grip on power.

The international community has sent billions of dollars in aid and expertise and thousands of troops, weapons and equipment.

But a Taliban-led insurgency, which also sees "jihadists" from other countries on the battlefield, has been able to grow as other problems have mounted, including an explosion in crime, and in opium and heroin production.
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Afghan journalist appeals death sentence
By ALISA TANG and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Sun May 18, 9:11 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for insulting Islam denied the charges before an appeals court Sunday, saying he only confessed to questioning the religion's treatment of women because he was tortured.

During an hour-long hearing, a judge read aloud a transcript of the Jan. 22 proceedings against 24-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh at the primary court in northern Balkh province.

It was the first time the public and the media heard full details from the closed-door trial, which highlights the influence of conservative religious attitudes in post-Taliban Afghanistan's still-nascent justice system.

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for local newspapers when he was arrested Oct. 27.

The transcript said Kambakhsh disrupted classes at the university by asking questions about women's rights under Islam. It also said he distributed an article about the subject and wrote an additional three paragraphs for the piece.

The only people with him in the courtroom in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif were three judges, a court scribe and the prosecutor. Kambakhsh said he had no defense lawyer, and only three minutes to defend himself.

He was transferred to Pul-e Charkhi prison on March 27, and his case was moved to Kabul, where human rights groups believed he would have a fair trial.

On Sunday, Kambakhsh spoke in the court in Kabul, again without a defense lawyer.

"I'm Muslim, and I would never let myself write such an article. All these accusations are nonsense," he said during an emotional 15-minute statement.

"These accusations come from two professors and other students because of private hostilities against me. I was tortured by the intelligence service in Balkh province, and they made me confess that I wrote three paragraphs in this article."

According to the transcript from the Balkh court proceedings, the prosecutor said Kambakhsh admitted to writing three paragraphs of the article and had initialed them.

He also was accused of writing, "This is the real face of Islam ... The prophet Mohammad wrote verses of the holy Quran just for his own benefit."

Prosecutor Ahmad Khan Ayar told the appeals court that the primary court sentence was "the right decision" according to Islamic law and the Afghan Constitution.

"Kambakhsh has insulted Islam by writing these paragraphs, and he has insulted the Prophet Muhammad," Ayar said. "I ask the appeals court today to uphold the decision of the primary court of Balkh and sentence him to death."

A number of rights groups have demanded that the case be annulled and Kambakhsh set free. A U.S. State Department spokesman expressed concern that Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for "basically practicing his profession."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was concerned that Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and local politics.

Ibrahimi said the family approached more than 10 lawyers who were initially willing to take the case but later changed their minds.

A week after Kambakhsh was sentenced, lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament lauded the verdict. Conservative clerics and tribal elders have demanded that the government support the court's decision.

More than 150 people — including several Western observers and more than 20 journalists — filled the courtroom Sunday to view the proceedings.

Kambakhsh said he did not believe he needed a defense lawyer at the appeals level because he had not done anything wrong, but pressed further said he would like to have one.

The head of the three-judge panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, adjourned the trial until next Sunday to allow Kambakhsh to meet with a lawyer and prepare a written defense.

Afghan media have flourished since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Newspapers and TV and radio stations have opened nationwide.

But journalists face violence for news stories that criticize government leaders, warlords and religious clerics or challenge their often authoritarian views.
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Britain anxious about Afghanistan: party leader
Sat May 17, 2:59 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - There is "anxiety and trepidation" in Britain about the international effort in Afghanistan, and signs that things are getting worse, the Liberal Democrat leader said here Saturday.

Failure to defeat extremism and drugs production here would have catastrophic consequences, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said during a visit to Afghanistan.

"There is a great deal of anxiety and trepidation amongst the British public and politicians alike because everybody desperately wants this international mission to succeed," Clegg told reporters.

Failure would be dire for the country and the region, and would also be felt through "extra drugs on the streets of Britain and greater radicalisation amongst extremist groups," he said.

"I think the success is in the balance," Clegg said, adding certain recent events had "pointed in the wrong direction."

The politician, who was in Afghanistan for a few days, met the Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, parliamentarians and diplomats in Kabul.

He also toured a British-funded drugs treatment centre Zindag-i-Nawin ("New Life") in Kabul, meeting doctors and heroin addicts.

Britain and the United States are the main funders of efforts to cut back Afghanistan's production of opium, which is used to make heroin.

The country produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium, much of it in areas where an extremist insurgency is most virulent.

Asked about the lack of progress in beating drugs, Clegg said it was difficult to implement a counternarcotics strategy in the absence of security.

Lack of coordination between Afghan and international military efforts, as well as those involved in a reconstruction drive, was also a problem, he said.

Britain has nearly 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of them in the volatile southern province of Helmand, a stronghold for Taliban extremists, and is among the top donors to development projects.
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Celebrating art in Afghanistan
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul  Sunday, 18 May 2008 04:02 UK BBC News
A work by one of the shortlisted artists

Sara Nabil is not your typical 14-year-old artist in Afghanistan.

Her gold-painted, glass sugar bowl with strips of material sprouting from the top symbolises the corrupt nature of marriage, she says.

When you lift the sugar bowl's lid, you see that the ends of the material are burnt and there are pieces of a broken mirror and bangles.

"Why should the life of an Afghan woman be like this?" asked Miss Nabil.

"When a woman gets married and moves into her husband's home, her life is ruined, her heart broken and she slowly wastes away."

Welcome to just one of the entries for Afghanistan's first contemporary art prize.

Sponsored by the Turquoise Mountain - a foundation dedicated to supporting local Afghan arts and crafts - and a local businessman, the prize aims to support the small contemporary art scene in the country.

'Important communicator'

More than 70 people from across Afghanistan submitted entries for the $2,000 prize and 10 artists - including Miss Nabil - were shortlisted.

"Art is an important communicator and reflects what's going on in society," said Jemima Montagu, one of the organisers of the prize.

"I think it's important that Afghanistan isn't just a place of trauma but that it's a place where a cultural life can begin to develop like another city."

In pictures: Afghan art

Other successful entries by Afghan artists include a beaded snake in a glass jar; a pink rose whose stem is pierced by pins; and a wooden lampshade in the shape of Afghanistan and painted in the colours of the national flag.

Mohammad Ismael Zadran, 33, was so excited when he heard the radio advertisement for the prize that he hired a taxi and packed it full of 200 pieces of art.

From his small, conservative village in the north-eastern province of Khost - where he is the only artist - he made the eight-hour bumpy journey.

"Three of my wood sculptures were destroyed during the journey," said Mr Zadran. "But it was a chance I had to take."

Contemporary art in Afghanistan is far removed from the world of contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

'Good thing'

It has roots in the period when the former Soviet Union occupied the country.

"Contemporary art is difficult for most Afghans to understand," said Timor Hakimyar, a former president of the Artists Union of Afghanistan.

"But it is a good thing to start, to encourage people to learn about the arts."

All art forms suffered heavily during the Afghan civil war and then during the Taleban takeover.

The Taleban movement regarded most art as "haram" - forbidden in Islam - particularly work that showed any depiction of the human form.

As part of the prize, the 10 nominees are participating in a two-week workshop that aims to explore the concepts of contemporary art.

Local and international artists have been invited to speak to Afghan artists to help them develop new ideas.

Afghanistan has been wracked by 20 years of war and there is currently an insurgency in many parts of the country.

Organisers believe that contemporary art offers the Afghans a way of channelling their trauma and discussing topics that are still largely taboo in society.

During one of the workshops, the artists were asked to buy items from the local market and make a piece of contemporary art.

One participant's exhibit had twigs sticking out of a doorway, and the debris of a small two-person figurine, a statue of a dog, a smashed light bulb, a cigarette butt and vegetables strewn on the ground.

He said it symbolised the scene of when his house was hit by a rocket in Kabul in the early 1990s.

Organisers say that an exhibition of this new artwork will be held next month followed by an announcement of the first winner of the contemporary art prize.
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AFGHANISTAN: “I sold my daughter to feed the rest of my family”
SHIBERGHAN, 18 May 2008 (IRIN) - Sayed Ali (not his real name) said he sold his 11-year-old daughter, Rabia, for US$2,000 to a man in Sheberghan city, Jawzjan Province in northern Afghanistan to feed his wife and three younger children.

With food prices in Afghanistan having soared over the past few months and the 40-year-old father unable to find work, he said had no other choice but to sell his daughter to save his family from starvation.

“Even animals don’t sell their children, because they love them and want to die for them, not to mention human beings. For too many days I stood next to roads and asked people for work, but always ended up disappointed. I couldn’t go home empty-handed and disappoint my starving children, so I used to scavenge in garbage and collect leftover food.

“I would lie to my family and say I bought them food from the market. But now it’s even hard to find anything edible in the garbage because of [increasing] food prices. People now eat all their food because it’s very expensive and also the numbers of those who scavenge in garbage has increased.

“Because I am illiterate, no one will give me a job. I am illiterate because of war and poverty. I didn’t go to school because my parents wanted me to work. My children also don't go to school and they’ll also be brought up illiterate like me.

 “How can someone sell his own child? It’s like selling your eyes or selling your heart!

“As no one would give me work I had no other option but to sell my lovely daughter. I sold her only to save the rest of my family. I sold her only to buy food for my younger children who otherwise would have died from hunger.

“I know people will say I am a cruel and merciless father who sold his own child, but those who say so don't know my hardship and have never felt the hunger that my family suffers.

“I know other poor people who don’t have children and say, if necessary, they will blow themselves up [in a suicide attack] and kill other people in order to feed their families.

“I hope the government will hear my voice and help people like me to find jobs and feed our families.”
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What Japan should do to assist Afghanistan
The Yomiuri Shimbun May 18, 2008
Security measures and rehabilitation assistance must be further strengthened to prevent Afghanistan from slipping back into its previous existence as a hotbed for international terrorist groups.

Amid growing concern in the international community over Afghanistan, issues surrounding the country will be one of the items on the agenda at July's Group of Eight summit meeting at the Lake Toya resort in Toyakocho, Hokkaido. Japan has a responsibility to play a proper role as host nation in this regard.

Since last year, security in Afghanistan has deteriorated rapidly. The Taliban, former rulers of the country, and the international terrorist network Al-Qaida have been stepping up their antigovernment activities, mainly in eastern and southern regions near the border with Pakistan.

Last month, suspected Taliban militants attempted to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a military parade in Kabul. The situation is alarming in that the capital, which had been relatively safe in comparison with other cities in the country, apparently is no longer so.

There were 160 suicide bombings targeting the International Security and Assistance Force and other organizations in Afghanistan in 2007--a huge leap from the 17 that occurred in 2005. More than 800 soldiers of foreign armies have been killed since U.S. and British forces invaded the country in October 2001.

This is why war-weariness has been growing in Canada, Germany, Italy and other countries that have dispatched military forces to the ISAF.

Front line in war on terrorism

Despite being preoccupied with the situation in Iraq, the United States has reinforced troop levels in Afghanistan and is strongly calling for cooperation from its allies.

Afghanistan is the front line of the war against terrorism. The international community needs to work as one to stamp out the terrorist groups there and develop the Afghan Army.

Nonmilitary and civilian assistance is equally vital for Afghanistan.

Narcotics production has been increasing in rebel strongholds around the border with Pakistan, serving to fund terrorist organizations. Every effort must be made to strengthen the country's economic development, mainly around border regions, reduce poverty and wipe out poppy cultivation.

Since 2001, Japan has offered Afghanistan a total of $1.38 billion in aid to help disarm former soldiers and militiamen, provide training and equipment for police officers and construct roads and schools. Japan's assistance is the second largest after that of the United States.

Kabul has responsibilities, too

During his visit to Afghanistan early this month, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told Karzai and other leaders, "As a nation cooperating in building peace, we'd like to further enhance the solidarity of the international community in assisting Afghanistan."

An international conference is scheduled to be held in Paris in the middle of next month at which assistance for the five-year development plan drawn up by Karzai will be discussed. Since it is difficult to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to Afghanistan under the current situation, Japan should continuously fulfill its responsibilities by providing the country with financial support.

Meanwhile, it is also important to press the Afghan government to make transparent how it uses the financial aid it receives and make efforts to eliminate corruption. For peace to take root, the Afghan government must improve its administrative capability on its own and win public trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2008)
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NATO rejects UN rapporteur report on civilians' killing in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-18 19:34:07
KABUL, May 18 (Xinhua) -- The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Sunday described the UN rapporteur report of civilians killing by Afghanistan-based international forces as groundless and rejected it.

After 12 days of tour to different parts of Afghanistan and talks with Afghans and military officials, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Professor Philip Alston told newsmen on May 15 in his preliminary report that some 200 Afghan civilians had been killed in international forces operations over the past four months.

NATO's Civilian spokesman to Afghanistan Mark Laity termed the report as "disappointing" and "inaccurate".

"In summary we find much of the substance and the overall tone of his statement inaccurate and unsubstantiated," Laity told a press conference here Sunday. He said the report presented by Alston, had made strong allegation.

Alston in his report also added that the military commanders of the NATO had not provided details on civilian killings when approached.

Quoting an Afghan, the U.N. rapporteur said that a poor Afghan even was not allowed to ask why the troops kill his brother.

"This is not only rejected by ISAF, but we consider it an irresponsible remark given the absence of evidence offered and the seriousness of the allegation," Laity noted. He moreover stressed that ISAF troops operate within strict rule of engagement and within laws of armed conflict.

A considerable number of civilians had been killed in foreign troops' operations against insurgents in Afghanistan and the trendprompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ask NATO and the U.S.-led Coalition forces to coordinate operations with Afghan authorities to cease civilian deaths.

When asked to comment on the number of civilians killed by the international troops during military operations so far this year in Afghanistan, Laity said, "It would be low double figure." He did not give a precise figure, saying it could be tens and not hundreds.

"We hope and expect these inaccuracies will be addressed in the final report," Laity emphasized.

Afghan defense ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi who accompanied Laity at the conference also said that, "We do not agree with the report presented by Professor Alston."

A nearly 70,000-strong international troops under the flags of the NATO-led ISAF and a separate U.S.-led Coalition forces respectively are deployed across Afghanistan, with security mission.
Editor: Amber Yao 
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Australian troops confront tall poppies of Afghanistan
Brendan Nicholson The Age, Australia May 19, 2008
THE scene is surreal: an Australian soldier meets a curious child in an Afghan field awash with pink and white opium poppies.

It's a glorious burst of life in the otherwise bleak and lunar landscape of southern Afghanistan, and signals death on the streets of Western cities.

With the arrival of summer and the so-called "fighting season", the snows are gone and the mountain areas around the Chora Valley, in Oruzgan Province, are dusty brown and rocky, with not a tree or a blade of grass in sight.

Then, over one of the endless sharp ridgelines lies a valley startling green with trees and irrigated crops and hectares of the ubiquitous poppies that have turned Afghanistan into the supplier of 93% of the world's heroin.

The sweet scent is so strong that Australian helicopter pilots blasting through these valleys in their giant Chinooks 20 metres above the ground say it's like flying into a flower shop.

Some of the proceeds of the poppy crop are being used by the Taliban to finance its insurgency and to pay local farmers to join its war on coalition forces.

Despite recent casualties, Australian troops are continuing their aggressive push into parts of southern Afghanistan, including the Chora Valley, that have been dominated by the Taliban for the past six years. While there is considerable pessimism internationally and among Australian commentators about the likelihood of success in Afghanistan, Australia's Defence Force chief, Angus Houston, said he found the Australian soldiers' success in their areas uplifting.

Air Chief Marshal Houston told The Age that several things were working in the Australians' favour.

He said they were prepared to patrol on foot, and made a point of walking into villages for talks with tribal leaders.

Their success at winning over the local people in areas they had made secure had galvanised allies previously inclined to stay "behind the wire" to go on the offensive.

In the Chora Valley, Afghan and Dutch soldiers were manning the small, rugged bases built by Australian army engineers during the bitterly cold months of the northern winter.

Seventy Australians in Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams, known more quaintly as "Omelettes", are about to take on a similar role in these outlying bases when the Labor Government's new policy of embedding experienced troops with Afghan units comes into operation in the next month.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said the mentors would see the Afghan battalions, or Kandaks, through the early stages when they would be at their most brittle and vulnerable.

The Australians say they and the Afghan troops and police they are working with are increasingly being warned by local civilians about Taliban and al-Qaeda ambushes and the locations of bombs.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said the tribespeople were sick of seeing their families killed, and wanted peace and jobs.

After setting up the forward bases, the Australian engineers will help build a basic infrastructure, with bazaars and schools.

"We need to be more involved in improving governance and putting an end to the narco-economy," he said. That would be done by providing security and encouraging economic development to demonstrate to the local people that they could make a good living other than by cultivating poppies for the insurgents and criminal warlords.

Brendan Nicholson is defence correspondent. He went to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq with Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
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Afghan kite-maker perfects his craft in Hollywood
By Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times  |  May 18, 2008
LOS ANGELES - There is just a breath of wind in North Hollywood. Basir Beria steps out of his shop on Lankershim Boulevard with a red fighter kite. He flings the kite into the air, and after a few nimble tugs, watches it whirl skyward.

The kite darts about at first, fighting the short leash. Beria unreels the string from a homemade spool. The red kite spirals for a moment until he tugs again. It rockets up and across the boulevard.

Beria moves about the sidewalk as if he's waltzing, right arm outstretched. The kite responds to his forefinger - flitting this way, arching that way, in the sky.

At 47, Beria is strong and could do this for hours. Flying a kite is meditation, transcending purpose. But he must get back to the cash register. A year ago, Beria opened a small convenience store, Smoke House and Magazines. He works behind the counter 10 hours a day, seven days a week to pay the bills. Occasionally, he sells a handmade Afghan kite, built in his spare time with slivers of bamboo, swaths of rice paper, and cotton string. The kites - and "The Kite Runner," a novel he did not particularly appreciate - are what brought him to America.

Like many immigrants in Los Angeles, Beria struggles to retain a piece of another place and time in a new land where the future is wide open. For him, the kites fuse the present with Afghanistan, the country he loved and fled. He hopes, in this balance, he will feel whole again.

Beria grew up in a red-stone mansion in the Kabul suburb of Karte Parwan, surrounded by thousands of grapevines owned by his family. He took to "kite fighting" as a rambunctious little boy, the second of seven children.

Kite fighting had a long history in his family and in Afghanistan. When winter vacation began, the leaden sky would light up with swirling colored paper. But the fighters used lines encrusted with powdered glass, called "tar." They brought the strings together hundreds of feet in the air.

When Beria was 8, he took strips of bamboo, pieces of English tissue paper, and wallpaper glue and made his first kite. An older neighbor, Najib, promised to cut it down. Beria dared him to try. Beria released his kite into the cold wind. It keeled to one side, off balance. Najib's kite set on it like wounded prey. Their lines crossed. Beria's string went limp. The defeat made him more intent on learning the craft.

His father, Gul, showed him how to shave a bamboo strip with a razor blade, cutting the pulp away until the skin bowed in a balanced elliptical arc. The smooth, strong curve of the top spar, Gul said, was the kite's muscle.

Beria's memories of that time are warm and nostalgic. But a storm was gathering on the horizon by the 1970s. Over dinner, Beria's father complained about the country's growing dependence on the Soviet Union. A bloodless coup in June 1973 ended the 40-year reign of King Mohammad Zahir Shah. Political discourse became polarized between Soviet Marxism and radical Islam.

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and calling home became impossible. Three years passed. In 1984, his father called from India.

The family decided to move to America, where two uncles lived.

In California, the family rented an apartment in Pacoima. Beria worked the night shift at a convenience store. Twice while trying to stop robberies, he was beaten.

Later, he took a job assembling electronics, and then waited tables. He came to love American sports and became a Los Angeles Lakers fan.

But as much as Beria embraced America, Afghanistan remained on his mind. He found rice paper and bamboo. His younger brother brought a spool of "tar" from India. They started kite fighting.

Beria put on a kite festival at Castaic Lake where men showed their American-born children the intricate skills of kite fighting, as their own fathers had done in Afghanistan.

He traveled to kite festivals up and down the West Coast. In San Francisco, he fell in love with Homaira Qarizada, whom he had known in Afghanistan. They married in 1996, had a boy, and rented a home in Tarzana with the rest of the family.

Early in 2006, Beria got a message on his cellphone from a place called DreamWorks. He ignored it. A few days later, a woman got him on the line.

"Did you read the book 'The Kite Runner'?" she asked.

No, he said, but he knew about it.

She explained that DreamWorks made movies and that she was a producer. She asked if they could see him fly his kites.

The director, Marc Foster, and a dozen producers and crew members met Beria at Balboa Lake, where Afghan and Pakistani kite fighters regularly competed. They watched Beria fly his kites. They offered him the job of "kite master" on the set in western China. It would pay $1,000 a week. Beria jumped at it, even though he'd have to quit his job waiting tables.

He flew to the ancient Chinese city of Kashgar with 100 of his kites. Walking the narrow alleys twisting through the desert below the Tian Shan mountains felt like walking through his childhood Kabul - the food, the smells, the Turkic faces.

He read the novel by Khaled Hosseini - about a well-off boy who flees Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Beria felt that the novel unfairly portrayed the Taliban as an Afghan creation, when the movement originated out of Pakistan and Afghan Taliban were mostly uneducated, brainwashed orphans of the Soviet war.

For 15 weeks, Beria taught more than 150 local children how to fly the kites and got involved in the film's kite-flying scenes.

Later, he would take great pride walking Homaira and his three children down the red carpet of the Egyptian Theater on opening night in Hollywood and watching his kites soar across the big screen.

When Beria got back to California, he had no job but a firm vision: to sell the kites that people would see in the movie.
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Outbreak of rare disease kills 17 and infects 190
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 17 May 2008 
Deadly disease that causes victims' bellies to balloon confirmed in west
THE OUTBREAK of a bizarre disease in the western province of Herat has killed 17 people and infected a further 190, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The disease, called "Camel Belly" or "Charmak disease", spread last month through the district of Gulran, where the poisonous weed which carries the disease is found in large quantities.

Charmak disease causes intense abdominal pain, swelling of the belly and intense vomiting fits, followed by death in some occassions.

Medical experts in the Netherlands now say the disease, which was previously thought untreatable, has a cure: extraction of the liquids in a patient’s swollen stomach, vitamin and mineral supplements and two grams of sodium in the daily diet.

WHO expert, Rana Graber Kakar, said: “There is no magic pill for it," but recommended rest for long-term recovery.

The WHO has launched a campaign to make people aware of the disease, which finds its way into the Gulran district’s wheat because it grows predominantly in wheat fields.

But the drive has been received coldly by most of Gulran's poor populace.

"When we tell them not to eat Gulran flour, they ask what they should eat instead," said the head of Gulran hospital, Aziz Noorzai.

The UN World Food Programme says it has distributed 700 tonnes of mixed food to about 55,000 people in Gulran under the food-for-work and education incentive schemes, and a further 860 tonnes would be distributed to 24,000 people in the near future.

"Charmak" has appeared at least three times in the past 50 years - always in Herat Province - and had affected hundreds of people each time, according to local officials.

Health experts said the disease cannot be prevented through medical measures only, but that improvements in wheat cultivation, harvesting, threshing and milling - and enabling farmers to eliminate poisonous weeds in their fields - would help avert future outbreaks.
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Kabul urges Islamabad to abandon talks with militants
Dawn By Our Correspondent  May 17, 2008
WASHINGON-Afghanistan has joined the growing chorus in Washington against Pakistan’s peace efforts in the tribal areas, urging it to abandon its talks with militants.

In a breakfast meeting with reporters, Afghan Ambassador Said T. Jawad said Pakistan’s attempt to arrange a ‘separate peace’ with militants was a cause of concern for Afghanistan.

“To us, the intention doesn’t matter very much, frankly. It is the consequences, the outcome,” he said.

“We know from experience in the past that the outcome of these kinds of separate peace deals, without including provisions for cross-border infiltrations, will lead to further violence against Afghans, Nato and coalition forces.”

The ambassador’s complaint against the peace talks echoes those of senior US officials who have expressed similar concerns, although so far Washington has not asked Pakistan to abandon the talks.

“We understand that these recent negotiations are part of the process of bringing security and stability to the tribal areas,” a State Department official told Dawn.

“However, outcomes are what matter.”

The official described the desired outcome as “end to Al Qaeda and Taliban activity, end to training suicide bombers and end to cross-border attacks.”
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