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Taliban Targeting Would-Be Afghan Voters

27 June 2004 -- Afghan security officials say Taliban fighters in the southern province of Zabul have kidnapped and killed more than a dozen people who were carrying voter registration cards for elections scheduled in September.

Authorities say the group was kidnapped late Thursday in the central Afghan province of Uruzgun while traveling on a passenger bus. Nazari, the Afghan interior ministry's security commander in that province's Khas Uruzgun district, told RFE/RL today that the victims were taken to the volatile Dai Chopan district of neighboring Zabul province and killed there on 25 June.

"Taliban fighters cut the road to Chaka Goy on Thursday. They detained 15 or 16 people," Nazari said. "They were Afghans returning home from Iran, three teachers from Khas Uruzgan district, and some men from Tarin Kowt [the provincial capital of Uruzgan Province.] The Taliban killed all of them [on Friday] except one person who escaped. He came to district of Khas Uruzgan reporting that the Taliban killed all of [the others]."

The killings are seen as the most serious attack yet on an election process that Taliban fighters and other Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt. News of the violence comes a day after a bomb attack on a bus in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad killed two women working for the U.N.-Afghan electoral body. That explosion also injured nine women poll workers and two children.

Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi claimed today that the Taliban carried out both attacks as a warning to Afghans not to take part in the elections. Hakimi also said that a total of 19 people were kidnapped in Uruzgun Province. He claimed that six were members of the elections commission and the other 13 were government soldiers.

Violence in the run-up to Afghanistan's elections has raised doubts about whether the polls can be conducted on time and in an atmosphere that is free and fair.

The United Nations says about 4.5 million of nearly 10 million eligible voters have registered. But the process has been particularly slow in the south and east of Afghanistan amid threats by militants and an on-going U.S. military offensive against the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday appealed to NATO countries to honor their security pledges by sending more troops to protect the presidential and parliamentary polls.

Nongovernmental foreign aid workers and political analysts also are urging NATO to enhance its presence in areas outside of the capital Kabul. Among them is Barbara Stapleton, the advocacy and policy coordinator for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR):

"We need the deployment of neutral security on the ground initially to enable aid actors to access the country and be able to continue their work, be able to deliver assistance and development to the country," Stapleton said. "As it is, we're prevented from accessing at least a third of the country and the areas that we cannot access have increased."

Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, says a key part of enhancing security is to disarm and demobilize factional militia across the country.

"It's absolutely vital that NATO, in expanding its presence in Afghanistan, takes on a formal role in supporting the [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of factional militia], supporting the identification of members to be disarmed, in having a hand in identifying stocks of weapons and ensuring that these are collected and transported to the [Afghan National Army] -- not just the weapons that the commanders are prepared to turn over but what they actually want to keep for themselves," Parekh said. "This, more than anything else, will make a difference in the security of candidates who would like to contest elections, or people who would want to exercise their vote freely."

NATO is expected to announce at a summit in Istanbul starting tomorrow that the alliance's 6,400-strong security force in Afghanistan will take command of more military-civilian reconstruction teams in the north and deploy another 1,200 troops for election security.

That deployment would be less than the estimated minimum 5,000 additional NATO troops the Afghan government and the United Nations have said are needed. The NATO deployments also are expected to take place in what already are relatively secure areas -- not in the south and east where Taliban fighters and other Islamic militants are most active.

(RFE/RL's Afghan service contributed to this report)