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UN Official: Security Issues, Other 'Complexities' Could Delay Afghan Elections - 2004-03-24

A senior U.N. official has delivered a grim assessment of the chances for early elections in Afghanistan. Security is the main concern, particularly in outlying areas where government control is weak.

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi says the process of organizing nationwide elections in Afghanistan is moving forward on schedule, under very difficult conditions. But in a Security Council briefing, Mr. Annabi suggested that the challenge of meeting a June 30 deadline is daunting.

"The complexities of carrying out multi-level, simultaneous elections in Afghanistan's current circumstances are enormous," he said. "Not least of these complexities is the fact that credible population figures for all provinces are not yet available, and a number of district boundaries remain under dispute."

Mr. Annabi warned that greater security will be needed to avoid a repeat of the past, when efforts to extend government authority to Afghanistan's largely autonomous provinces failed. He said Afghan militias and other armed factions will have to be demobilized before elections can proceed. "Without significant demilitarization, genuine political choice as required for a credible election is simply not possible," he said.

Mr. Annabi said voter registration for the election is on target, with one-point-five-million people signed up. He said preparations are being made to register the remainder of Afghanistan's eight million eligible voters.

Next week, donor countries are due to gather for an international Afghanistan conference in Berlin. Secretary of State Colin Powell, on a visit to Kabul last week, said the United States will pledge another $1 billion at the Berlin conference. That would bring the total U.S. commitment for this year to $2.2 billion.

The main donor countries, Germany, Britain, Japan, and the United States, are expected to pledge a total of $9 billion during the next four years at the Berlin meeting.

Afghanistan's finance minister has been quoted as saying his country would need nearly $28 billion during the next seven years to meet its development goals.