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UN: Peacekeeping Chief Outlines Security Plan For Afghan Polls

The top peacekeeping official at the United Nations says security for Afghanistan's presidential elections will be provided by a combination of international and national forces and tribal leaders. UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno has told the UN Security Council that Afghan police and army units will be responsible for security at local levels, and will get some back up by international forces. Guehenno acknowledged security concerns but predicted that the 9 October elections would be seen as "honest and credible."

United Nations, 28 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno has said that a multilayered security plan has been devised to protect Afghan voters, poll workers, and the ballot-counting process next month.

But Guehenno said UN officials are still anticipating some violence during the 9 October polls. "Multiple incidents across the country on or around election day cannot be excluded," he said. "All efforts must be undertaken to be fully prepared to react to attacks, especially on polling sites, transportation of ballots, and counting centers."

Guehenno said Afghan national police will provide security at most of the estimated 25,000 polling stations. The national army is to provide security in areas around polling sites and international troops will protect the transport of ballots and eight designated vote-counting centers.

The emphasis, he said, is to concentrate the ballots in a few places where there will be heavy security to ensure the integrity and safety of the counting process.

There are more than 8,000 soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and about 18,000 U.S. troops in the country, but they are stretched thin.

Guehenno told reporters that UN officials are counting on local communities and tribal elders -- especially in the south and east -- to help safeguard the process, as they did during voter registration. "There will not be international forces, obviously, and Afghan forces in every polling station," he said. "But we believe that with the present security concept we will have a reasonable degree of security. That is, there will be at the first layer Afghan security then at the outer layer will be international forces ready to back up security if the need arises."

The human rights group Human Rights Watch warned in a report today that warlords and other local commanders are trying to influence the elections by using threats and harassment on voters.

Guehenno acknowledged reports of voter intimidation but said he does not expect those incidents to undermine the overall process. "We are confident that those incidents will not be such that they damage the credibility of the presidential election and that enough precautions have been taken that the Afghans will see that election as a credible, honest exercise," he said. "A perfect exercise? Certainly not. An honest and credible one? Very likely so."

Earlier today, UN officials said in Islamabad that Afghan refugees could account for as much as 10 percent of the vote in next month's presidential elections.

The UN director of election operations in Pakistan and Iran, Peter Erben, said the "out-of-country" vote is significant. But he said Afghan refugee voters in Pakistan have been threatened by militant groups. "There have been threats to both staff and potential voters by small groups who wish to disrupt these elections," he said. "We take all these threats very seriously. We've been fortunate to avoid any actual incidents so far and we hope that this will continue."

Last week, Taliban supporters distributed leaflets in refugee camps in Pakistan saying anyone who killed an election worker would earn a divine reward and any Afghan who accepted a voter-registration card risked punishment.