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UN Says Afghan Elections on Track - 2004-09-28


United Nations officials say preparations for Afghanistan's October 9 presidential election are on track, despite expectations of violence. U.N. and Afghan diplomats reject warnings that powerful warlords will try to hijack the vote.

With a week and a half to go before election day, U.N. Undersecretary General Jean-Marie Guehenno says recruitment of 125,000 poll workers has been completed in six of Afghanistan's eight regions. Sixteen-thousand more observers and poll monitors will be stationed at 5,000 voting centers nationwide.

Ten million people have registered to vote in what will be Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election.

Briefing the Security Council Tuesday, Mr. Guehenno cautioned that the process remains vulnerable to what he called "the prevailing level of insecurity." He said in some areas where security staff is spread thin, tribal elders, some of them often referred to as "warlords," are being asked to help out.

"Tribal elders have been requested to both provide security and work with local councils to ensure that those attempting to disrupt the process are deterred or discouraged," he said. "In most cases, the response has been extremely positive."

Mr. Guehenno's briefing came a day after a human rights group warned that powerful warlords were hijacking the election process. The group Human Rights Watch issued a report saying armed factions, some of them allied with the United States, were using force, threats and corruption to win over voters.

Both Mr. Guehenno and Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Ravan Farhadi, brushed off the report's conclusions. Ambassador Farhadi predicted that many of those described by Human Rights Watch as warlords would be among those helping with election preparations.

"This is just their way of propaganda, because the warlords, I mean they were calling warlords those who serve Afghanistan," he said. "A man like Ismail Khan, like [Abdul Rashid] Dostum, General Atta [Mohammed], they are all serving Afghanistan for peace."

Undersecretary General Guehenno said he had heard reports of voter intimidation, but was confident they would not affect the credibility of elections.

The Afghan election is widely seen as a test of the Bush administration's policies in that region.

Mr. Guehenno predicted the vote would be far from perfect, but said he was confident any disruptions would not be enough to damage the credibility of the election.

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