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Afghanistan: UN Envoy Cites Progress In Stabilization Effort

The United Nation's special representative in Afghanistan says the country has stabilized considerably since the presidential elections in October. But UN envoy Jean Arnault, has also warned that stronger measures are needed to combat the country's illicit narcotics trade, estimated to account for almost two-thirds of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. He said the country is about to assume a larger role in preparing for spring parliamentary elections and must soon form an independent election commission and set a date for elections.

United Nations, 10 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN envoy Jean Arnault says progress in Afghanistan's disarmament and demobilization campaign has played a major role in improving stability in much of the country.

Arnault told the UN Security Council today that 33,000 militiamen have now been disarmed in the country and the program of heavy weapons cantonment is nearly complete. He said the demobilization of remaining Afghan militia forces -- numbering more than 20,000 -- should be finished by next summer.

The demobilization program provides space for political reforms to proceed. Arnault expressed confidence that parliamentary elections set for this spring will help strengthen the state-building process. "The repeated failures of extremists to derail the electoral process, combined with the better performance of security forces, point today to the possibility that the current improvement in the overall security situation will be sustained," Arnault said.

But Arnault said preparations for the elections require the demarcation of election-district boundaries within the next few weeks. He said President Hamid Karzai also must appoint an independent election commission in the near future which will then need to set a date for elections between 21 April and 21 May (the month of Saur 1383).

Arnault also said there must be improved efforts against the illicit narcotics industry, which is now equivalent to about 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product. "It is estimated that in 2004, 356,000 families were involved in opium poppy production, an increase of 35 percent from 2003," he said. "Poppy cultivation has also spread to 34 provinces and accounts for 56 percent of the total cultivated land."

The Afghan government last month launched a narcotics eradication program focusing on seven provinces. It will include a provision for alternative livelihoods for poppy-growing farmers, the extension of law enforcement, and the introduction of prevention and treatment for addicts.

Japan's UN ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, whose country is a key donor of aid programs in Afghanistan, told reporters it will require enormous effort and financial resources to persuade poppy growers to find alternative livelihoods. "We do not underestimate the difficulties involved but it is also very important to recognize it as critically important to bringing peace, stability and development in that country," Oshima said.

UN special representative Arnault told the council the UN mission is concerned that the targeting of international personnel in some areas could occur once winter weather recedes. But he said a recent UN review of security concluded UN personnel could continue to work at the same levels as in 2004 as long as they followed proper precautions.