Financial aid, drugs focusof Afghan conference

30th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

30 March 2004, BERLIN - An Afghanistan conference opens Wednesday in the German capital dominated by Kabul's bid to win more financial aid from wealthy states as well moves to fight illegal drugs and enhance security by expanding central government control.

30 March 2004

BERLIN - An Afghanistan conference opens Wednesday in the German capital dominated by Kabul's bid to win more financial aid from wealthy states as well moves to fight illegal drugs and enhance security by expanding central government control.

The Berlin meeting follows a decision by Afgan President Hamid Karzai to delay presidential and parliamentary elections planned for June until September.

Karzai and representatives from over 60 states and delegations, including US Secretary of State Colin Powell, will attend the two-day conference hosted by Germany, Afghanistan, Japan and the United Nations.

In the wake of the Madrid bombings, the German capital is experiencing massive security measures for the conference with more than 2,500 security personnel to be on duty.

A five-block radius around the hotel has been cordoned off, with even local residents required to show I.D. before being permitted into their own homes. And the immediate vicinity of the hotel is off limits even to them.

Industrial nations are being asked by Karzai to increase Afghan rebuilding funds in 2005 to USD 4.5 billion (EUR 3.7 billion).

But US officials predict a lower total for the coming year will be pledged at the meeting: about USD three billion.

Karzai is also expected to come up short in his call for USD 27.6 billion in rebuilding aid for the coming seven years. Germany, for example, has pledged just EUR 320 million for the period 2005 to 2008.

The fresh funds will be a follow-up to the USD 4.5 billion raised in 2002 at a Tokyo donor meeting.

But speaking ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Afghanistan is set to win aid pledges worth USD nine billion dollars at the conference.

"We cannot force peace with money," said Fischer who stressed there was no way to get around the huge sums needed to rebuild Afghanistan.

The European Commission on Tuesday announced almost EUR 120 million in aid for Afghanistan but warned of rising concern at the fragile security situation and increased production of drugs in the country.

Speaking ahead of the Berlin conference, officials at the Commission - the European Unions executive agency - said the new aid package, part of a EUR 400 million euro aid commitment to Afghanistan made last year - would be spent on improving basic services, ensuring a more secure environment and measures to reduce dependency on opium production.

"Despite some important advances, including the adoption of the new constitution, Afghanistan faces serious challenges which it cannot yet tackle alone," European external relations chief Chris Patten said.

Patten, who will be attending the Berlin meeting, highlighted concerns over the country’s "fragile security situation, the alarming growth in production of narcotics, and the acute poverty of much of the population".

The EU was determined, however, to support Afghanistan "in its transition to a more stable and prosperous future," he said.

The Commission told international donors meeting in Tokyo in 2002 that it would spend EUR one billion in Afghanistan over the next five years.

"In Berlin, I will pledge to maintain this substantial contribution. For the next three years, Commission support will continue at about 200 million euros per year," Patten said, adding that Commission aid to Afghanistan in 2004 would total EUR 245 million, including umanitarian assistance.

Fears the Afghan economy is slipping back to be fuelled by illegal drugs will be another main focus of the Berlin meeting.

Here the key question is how the Afghan government can take on powerful drugs producers who, according to some estimates, are responsible for about 50 percent of Afghanistan's GDP.

Delegates will seek agreement a mix of programmes focused on alternative crops, destruction of poppy fields and criminal prosecution of drug growers, said German officials.

But they warned that cutting a deal will be tough.

Linked to drugs is the meeting's third big theme: security and expanding control of the Afghan central government.

Here the focus will be on Afghanistan's 6,000-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by NATO, and plans to expand the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) which currently number 11.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will have talks with Karzai on Tuesday and formally opens the conference on Wednesday at a heavily guarded Berlin hotel.

The Berlin meeting is a follow-up to rebuilding conferences held in Bonn in 2001 and 2002 after the US-led held military intervention ousted Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban.

Also taking place from Monday in Berlin is a parallel meeting of NGOs, humans rights groups as well as Afghan tribal and religious leaders.

Ahead of the conference, Germany ruled out sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

"There will be no additional (German) soldiers in Afghanistan," said German Defence Minister Peter Struck at a news conference Tuesday.

Germany currently has about 2,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan with the ISAF international peacekeeping force.


Subject: German news

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