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Security Tightened Ahead of Berlin Afghan Conference - 2001-11-21

In the next few days, representatives of Afghanistan's rival tribes and factions will be converging on Berlin for talks on the formation of a new government in the country. Germany's foreign ministry and security officials are working hard to make sure the conference is a success.

The security measures have to be in place long before the conference on the future of Afghanistan starts next Monday.

Not only are the delegates themselves bitter rivals from a country which has been at war for more than 20 years. But the delegates must be protected from possible dangers outside the conference too.

Although the city's own Afghan population is reportedly not thought likely to stage protests, exiles in other cities may try to do so. And as one policeman told local media, the authorities have to assume there will be someone who could be planning an attack on the conference.

Police believe there may be 3,000 Islamic extremists in Berlin alone, and they fear some of them may be prepared to use violence.

Already, police and internal security agencies have been meeting to work out the details of how the delegates will be protected. Thousands of police will be deployed around the city center. Areas will be closed off around the foreign ministry, where the conference will be held, and around the Hilton Hotel, where newspapers report the delegates will stay.

But there's more to hosting a conference than providing security.

Technically, the Afghanistan conference is a United Nations affair. The participants in the talks, expected to number 70-80, include Afghan representatives, United Nations officials and observers. Germany, though it is hosting the conference and providing the venue and security, is not a partner in the talks.

But Germany is chairing the Afghanistan support group a group of countries who say they are ready to donate aid to Afghanistan and is pushing both domestically and internationally for humanitarian and reconstruction aid for the country.

German political analysts say helping Afghanistan is an important aspect of German foreign and domestic policy. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last week won parliamentary approval for sending troops for the war against terrorism by a very narrow margin. To win round the opponents of deployment, he must demonstrate his commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan.