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Afghanistan's Abdullah: Peacekeeping Deal 'Finalized' - 2001-12-30

Afghanistan's Interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says an agreement has been reached on the deployment of an International peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Mr. Abdullah told a hastily arranged news conference that a deal has been "finalized," but he did not provide details or say when it would take effect. He said it is important that the deployment starts soon adding that everyone is "aware of the urgency of the situation."

Under an agreement reached in Germany, the peacekeeping force is to be limited to the city of Kabul. But Mr. Abdullah said the interim government would also welcome their presence in other cities. Although, he said, their are no immediate plans to do so.

The first contingent of British peacekeepers has been in the country for more than a week. A final agreement on deploying the force was held up by debate over the size and function of it. Some senior Afghan leaders have argued that such a force is not needed, while others insist the international presence extend to areas beyond the capital.

Foreign Minister Abdullah also said accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is probably still inside Afghanistan. But he did not provide details or offer any proof. Last week, Afghanistan's interim defense minister Mohammad Fahim said the al-Qaida leader probably had crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan. Pakistan dismissed the comment as only speculation.

The interim cabinet also sidestepped a potential hurdle in relations with Washington, saying the US bombing campaign should continue for as long as it takes to wipe out "terrorists" in Afghanistan. Mr. Abdullah said, "it should continue as long as terrorist cells are in Afghanistan or until the campaign against terror is concluded fully, with our objectives achieved fully."

Last week the interim government was indicating that the time was approaching for a bombing halt. Both the Pentagon and President Bush said the campaign was not going to stop until Osama bin Laden and those associated with him are brought to justice.