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Afghanistan Celebrates National Day

27 April 2004 -- Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim today called on militiamen to lay down their arms and acknowledge the authority of the central government.

Fahim made the call during a celebration in Kabul marking the 12th anniversary of the end of communist rule in Afghanistan. The minister, a former mujahedin leader, urged militiamen who remain loyal to regional warlords to disarm and participate in the country's reconstruction.

The anniversary ceremony marks the fall of Afghanistan's Moscow-backed communist regime in April 1992, which stayed in power even after mujahedin fighters forced Soviet troops to withdraw three years earlier.

"We have won most of the wars but the challenge which remains before us is postwar governance," Fahim said in his speech. "It is up to everyone to help this process. We need to collect all weapons from irresponsible people and hand them over to the national army."

Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and Fahim inspected thousands of Afghan National Army troops during the ceremony, which included a military parade featuring a small group of policewomen and heavy weapons, including Scud missiles.

"Mujahedin heroes..., I congratulate you on the 12th anniversary of your victory," Karzai said.

In a letter presented at the celebration, former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah said Afghans who united to fight the Soviet invasion must again unite to participate in Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Elsewhere in the country, officials said that members of the country's ousted Taliban regime killed two local aid workers and an Afghan soldier in southern Kandahar Province yesterday.

General Salim Khan, a senior police official in Kandahar city, today said suspected Taliban remnants carried out simultaneous attacks in the Panjwai district late yesterday. Khan said some assailants riding in open cars fired on the district's government headquarters, while others attacked the office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA).

Khan told reporters the attacks resulted in the deaths of two CHA employees and one Afghan soldier. He said six Afghan troops were also injured.

Officials have blamed the Taliban for a recent upsurge in violence in Kandahar Province.