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Afghan Conference Switched to Bonn for Security Concerns - 2001-11-22

Next week's conference on the future of Afghanistan has been switched from Berlin to Germany's former capital city, Bonn. The change of venue reflects United Nations security concerns.

After days of diplomatic confusion, the German government and the United Nations have at last agreed that Bonn will be the venue for the meeting on the formation of a transitional government in Afghanistan.

Although planning for a massive security operation in Berlin was well advanced and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had put a conference room in his own ministry building at the disposal of the United Nations, U.N. officials had other ideas.

A diplomatic source in the capital said Bonn was the original U.N. choice, because the former capital city's Petersberg complex, with its government buildings and good conference facilities is relatively secluded, easy to cordon off and easier to secure. It is also easier to keep the media at a distance, and in Bonn's provincial atmosphere, it is much easier to keep an eye on outsiders than in cosmopolitan Berlin.

Germany's longstanding links to Afghanistan and its current chairmanship of the Afghanistan Support Group of countries pledging humanitarian and reconstruction aid for the country, were the reasons it was picked to host the meeting.

Neither Germany nor any other country is sending official delegates to the conference, which could last from just three days to as long as two weeks.

The 50 to 70 delegates expected to attend will come from among the main Afghan groups and the United Nations. But it is understood that a number of interested countries, including the United States and other members of the alliance against terrorism, will send representatives to Bonn who will be available for consultation. There are also expected to be representatives from India, Pakistan and Iran. As neighbors of Afghanistan, they are eager to have a say in who succeeds the Taleban.

At this stage, however, diplomats are not expecting the Bonn meeting to produce a final agreement on the shape of the next government in Afghanistan.