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Afghanistan: UN Hosting Reconstruction Meeting --> Afghan police officer on patrol in Ghazni Province (file photo) (AFP) September 23, 2007 -- An international meeting is taking place in New York to review the progress of reconstruction in Afghanistan, six years after the fall of the Taliban regime.

Officials from 18 countries are expected to attend, as are representatives of international organizations.

The meeting comes at a time when the country is plagued by a resurgent Taliban guerrilla resistance and soaring opium output.

Organizers say the talks are to focus on ways the international community and the United Nations can help the Afghan government tackle issues of security, good governance, regional cooperation, and drug trafficking.

The meeting is co-hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is due to address the UN General Assembly on September 24.

Joining them at the talks are representatives from the UN Security Council's five permanent member-- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- as well as Canada, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey.

Also invited are the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the European Commission, NATO, and the World Bank.

Development Blueprint

Participants will review progress toward implementing the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year development blueprint launched in January 2006 by Kabul and some 70 foreign partners.

Under the deal, Afghanistan promised to take specific steps in the areas of security, governance, rule of law and human rights, and economic and social development in return for military and economic support.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Beheen told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in New York today that discussions on peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are not on the agenda.

But he said, "President [Hamid] Karzai will highlight some key points about security, fight against terrorism, and drug trafficking. Peace negotiations are very important for us. President Karzai will hold separate meetings with President [George W.] Bush, Canadian Prime Minister [Stephen Harper], German Chancellor [Angela Merkel], and French President [Nicolas Sarkozy]."

U.S.-led forces in October 2001 toppled the Taliban for refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

In an interview with RFE/RL earlier this month, Carla Haddad from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) voiced concern about increased violence in Afghanistan.

"The armed conflict in Afghanistan has in fact continued to intensify throughout 2007, especially in the southern and eastern regions. It is also spreading geographically to the west and north and getting closer to Kabul. So the ICRC is concerned about the situation and especially about the humanitarian impact of the armed conflict on the Afghan people," Haddad said.

Opium High

Opium production meanwhile reached a record high in Afghanistan this year.

Christy McCampbell, the head of the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, said earlier this month that increased poppy cultivation has a dramatic impact on the country's economy and security.

"Opium accounts for one-third of their [the Afghan] economy, according to UN statistics. This contributes of course to the widespread public corruption, to the damages of economic growth -- of illicit economic growth, and it definitely strengthens the insurgency problems there," McCampbell said.

The UN Security Council on September 19 voted to extend for one year the mandate of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

The UN-mandated ISAF force comprises 39,000 military personnel from more than 30 nations. It operates alongside a U.S.-led coalition of about 15,000 troops and alongside Afghan security forces.

More than 160 foreign soldiers were reported killed in Afghanistan this year.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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