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Armed Soldiers To Stay in Kabul Despite Efforts To Rid City of Weapons - 2002-01-13

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry has announced that it will keep more than 1,000 armed soldiers in the capital, Kabul, despite government orders for all armed men to leave the city.

A senior Defense Ministry official says 1,500 troops will stay in the capital until a properly-trained Afghan police force is in place. The official says the soldiers will function only as an emergency security team to deal with murderers and armed criminal gangs. The troops will be confined to military bases around the city and will not be permitted to roam around Kabul with weapons.

The announcement, nevertheless, defies recent efforts by the Interior Ministry to oust all armed men from the capital and declare the city weapon-free. The ministry as well as interim government chairman, Hamid Karzai have been anxious to prove to international observers that the government is working to pacify a nation awash in guns.

The observers are worried that the weapons may be used by rival factions and ethnic groups to settle old scores and to fight for power during the political transition.

Mr. Karzai told VOA Sunday that various militias throughout the country are being aggressively disarmed. He says many people are reporting improved security in their neighborhoods. "It is stabilizing. It's not that bad. We had some problems in Kabul, very minor incidents. The Interior minister has taken it seriously and it will be alright," he said. "It's an area where we will be very serious and we will not be lenient at all."

Meanwhile, in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. warplanes Sunday continued to bomb suspected al-Qaida and Taleban hideouts in Zhawar, 30 kilometers southwest of Khost in Paktia province. The planes reportedly targeted cave complexes in the area where al-Qaida members were believed to be regrouping after escaping intense U.S. bombardments in Tora Bora last month.

In the southern city of Kandahar, the U.S. military has transferred 30 more Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners by plane to a high-security facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The first group of 20 prisoners left Afghanistan Thursday and arrived in Cuba the following day.