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French, Australian Leaders Visit Afghanistan

The leaders of France and Australia made unannounced visits to Afghanistan Saturday for meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told a joint news conference with Mr. Karzai that Australia is committed to helping bring reconstruction and stability to Afghanistan. The prime minister also announced plans to provide Afghanistan with nearly $95 million in economic aid.

Mr. Rudd visited some of Australia's one thousand troops stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan before arriving in the capital, Kabul.

Earlier, Mr. Karzai met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, also on an unannounced visit to the country.

A statement from Mr. Karzai's office said Mr. Sarkozy assured Afghanistan of long-term political and military support for his war-torn country. It said the two leaders also discussed what the statement described as the two main challenges in Afghanistan - poor security and opium production.

The visits come amid an escalation of Taliban violence in the country.

In eastern Afghanistan, police say three Afghan security force members were killed Saturday when a remote-controlled bomb detonated near their vehicle in Nangarhar province. Police say the three were on a poppy eradication mission in the area.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.