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UN Sends Team to Assess Afghan Infrastructure Needs - 2001-12-09

More than a dozen members of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations are in Kabul to assess Afghanistan's devastated civil infrastructure. The team says its mission is to conduct a technical survey, not to prepare the way for the deployment of peacekeepers.

The head of the U.N. mission to Kabul, Martin Barber says his 17-member team is made up of specialists in various fields, including communications, supplies, logistics, finance, engineering, and personnel.

He says the team's job for the next several days will be to identify the level and type of support the United Nations will need to have in those areas, if the world body decides to expand its presence in Afghanistan.

Mr. Barber insists the results of the survey will be used by a small number of U.N. technical staff members to assist the Afghan government in key areas. He says it is not designed to assess the needs for deploying a U.N. peacekeeping force.

Last week, four Afghan anti-Taleban factions representing the country's main ethnic groups agreed to form an interim government to be installed in Kabul on December 22.

The accord also calls for the deployment of an international security force to bring stability to Kabul and other areas of Afghanistan.

During a visit to neighboring Uzbekistan, Saturday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that talks were continuing about the make-up and command of the security force. Countries mentioned as possible participants have included Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Turkey, and possibly Jordan.

The Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnic groups who swept the Taleban from power in Kabul last month, says it prefers to have an all Afghan force to secure law and order in the country.

Several top Northern Alliance leaders, including outgoing president Burhanuddin Rabbani, have expressed strong opposition to plans to deploy multi-national force.

But Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who will retain his post in the interim government, says the alliance has not ruled out any U.N. peacekeeping plans. "There is a general agreement in principle for the presence of a multi-national peacekeeping force, which has been signed by all sides," he said. "Then further things can be discussed between now and the 22nd of December as well as later on by the new interim authority."

Mr. Barber says the U.N. team hopes to record its findings to the Security Council before December 25. A technical staff from the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations could be deployed to Kabul as early as the first week of January.