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Rights Group Demands UN Action on Afghan Security

A U.S. humanitarian group says Afghanistan is facing a human-rights crisis. Human Rights Watch says the United Nations needs to expand its monitoring efforts to combat widespread abuses by the country's powerful militia leaders.

Human Rights Watch says armed factions still control much of Afghanistan and routinely abuse human rights.

The organization said militia leaders, known as warlords, rob rural communities and threaten local politicians, and they continue to restrict the rights of women.

The group's regional director, Brad Adams, urges the United Nations to increase the number of human-rights monitors in Afghanistan.

Mr. Adams says September's national parliamentary elections present an opportunity for rural communities to challenge the militias, but only if human-rights workers are there to protect them.

"How are these people going to fare against people with guns unless there is international support and space is created for them?" asked Mr. Adams.

Human Rights Watch also criticized the international community for not addressing the situation earlier, and singled out donor nations, especially NATO countries, for not fulfilling their promises to Afghanistan.

Interior Ministry spokesman Latufullah Mashal says the Afghan government agrees in general with Human Rights Watch, but conditions are improving.

"Every year there is a positive change … but this does not mean everything is finished and we hope that with the expansion of the Afghan national police and army, the power and influence of the warlords will decrease," he said.

Security has been a concern in Afghanistan for decades. The U.S.-led invasion in 2001 removed the repressive Taleban regime and ended a bitter civil war between the northern and southern parts of the country.

But many militia leaders do not fully recognize the new central government's authority. They maintain private armies and prisons, and often control the local opium trade.

There are around 17,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but they focus on fighting rebels with ties to the Taleban and al-Qaida.

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has vowed to rein in the warlords' power. He also wants the United States to increase its military presence in the country and establish a security agreement with Kabul.