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Afghan President is Winner of Freedom Award - 2002-11-14


Afghan President Hamid Karzai is this year's winner of the International Rescue Committee's Freedom Award.

Past winners of the Freedom Award include English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Polish president Lech Walesa, and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. President Karzai says he is honored to be included among such luminaries, but it is the Afghan people that deserve accolades.

"They are rebuilding their homes, rebuilding their businesses, working their fields," he said. "Last December, last January, last February, if you would go to the north of Kabul or south of Kabul or east of Kabul, you would see destruction of all kinds. Homes, vineyards, orchards, fields. You visit them now, much of that has been rebuilt. And the truth is, most of it has been done without help from the government. The people have done it themselves."

Mr. Karzai says he looks forward to the establishment of a new Afghan constitution in about 14 months, with elections to follow.

President Karzai has presided over Afghanistan since the Taleban was driven out of the country by a U.S.-led coalition one year ago. He has faced the difficult tasks of reconciling differences between rival tribes, rebuilding the infrastructure of a nation ravaged by more than 20 years of war, and repatriating many thousands of refugees.

In the process, his government has endured numerous bomb blasts and ambushes, and he has survived an assassination attempt. His deputy, Haji Abdul Qadir, was killed in July.

International Rescue Committee President George Rupp says there was no dissention when the committee selected President Karzai as this year's honoree.

"Mr. Karzai has been a leading advocate for both freedom and independence in his country, and we have admired the way in which he has pulled together disparate factions in his country and moved forward in the direction of greater freedom and independence," he said. "We wanted to recognize that."

Mr. Rupp says President Karzai once taught English to Afghan refugees at an International Rescue Committee school in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The International Rescue Committee was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein to assist opponents of Hitler. It assists people fleeing racial, religious, and ethnic persecution, as well as those displaced by war and violence. The IRC has been in Afghanistan for 23 years.

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