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Karzai to Visit Turkey - 2002-04-03

Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai is scheduled to arrive in Turkey Thursday on a two day official visit. The visit follows the Turkish government's decision last week to take command of the international peace keeping force in Afghanistan.

During his first ever official visit to the Turkish capital, Mr. Karzai is expected to meet with Turkish leaders, including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.

Turkish officials familiar with the interim Afghan leader's agenda say talks will focus on a number of key issues. Foremost among them is Turkey's decision to assume command of the international peace keeping force in Kabul. Turkey will be taking over from Britain, the current commander of the force, when its term expires later this month. Turkish officials say the handover will likely be completed in June.

Some 1000 Turkish troops are to be deployed in Kabul in addition to some 260 Turkish troops already in place.

Mr. Karzai will also be discussing Turkey's likely contributions to his war-ravaged country's economy. Turkish contractors are particularly eager to land a chunk of reconstruction projects likely to be financed by the international community.

Turkey has played a lead role in the US-led military campaign against Taleban forces and members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. Soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, Turkey opened its skies and bases to US war planes, headed for bombing missions in Afghanistan. It is the first Muslim nation to have sent troops to take part in the international peace keeping force.

Turkey's ties to the Afghan nation date back to the 1930s when the then-Afghan monarch, Amanullah Khan looked to Turkey's pro-western secular system as a model for his own country. Turkey helped train the fledgling Afghan army and built schools and hospitals in Afghanistan.

Today Turkey is training a group of young Afghan diplomats. Mr. Karzai is expected to inspect their progress during his visit to the Turkish capital.