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G8 Foreign Ministers:  Afghan Elections Must be Credible

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries meeting in Italy lamented corruption and drug trafficking and limited economic opportunities in Afghanistan. They said better cooperation among countries in the region is needed to promote stability and development. They also said upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan must be credible.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Afghanistan is a country of concern that deserves the help and support of the international community. He said it is in everyone's interest that it consolidates its path toward stabilization, and strengthens security and economic development.

Frattini was speaking at a closing press conference of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in the northern Italian port city of Trieste.

He said the ministers discussed the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan in August and the need for these to be credible.

He said all the G8 nations are committed to ensure that these elections are held in conditions of security to achieve a result that will be legitamized by the Afghan people.

On Saturday in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, called on the Taliban and other militants to vote in the August 20 elections and he called on them not to attack voting places. Mr.Karzai said militants should take part in the presidential and provincial council elections and renounce violence.

The foreign ministers in Trieste also endorsed Pakistan's battle against Taliban rebels and pledged to work closer with the country's government in efforts to combat terrorism and extremism.

Discussions have focused on how to improve security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and how to combat insurgency and terrorist activities. Concern was expressed that drug trafficking and the opium trade in Afghanistan help fund extremism and the ministers said alternative sources of income must be found.

The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said Iran should be involved in counter-narcotics initiatives.

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, announced a new drug policy because, he said, current crop eradication programs are not working and only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

Frattini said Ambassador Holbrooke announced that the United States will reduce its financial support for opium crop eradication but that in parallel they will earmark hundreds of millions of dollars to promote legal agriculture.

The ministers said that efforts to deliver basic services in Afghanistan, including health, education and water are being hampered by the lack of security and widespread corruption.

They also spoke of the big challenge Afghanistan is facing to bring back hundreds of thousands of refugees. In order to do this, Frattini said, the government needs to create attractive conditions in the agricultural sector and improve its infrastructures.