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Karzai-Ecevit Talks Focus on International Peacekeeping - 2002-04-04

Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai arrived in Ankara Thursday on a two day official visit. Talks between the Afghan leader and his Turkish hosts focused on Turkey's decision last week to take command of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

Following talks with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai stressed his government's satisfaction over Turkey's decision to take command of the international peacekeeping force from Britain in the coming weeks.

Turkish officials say the handover will likely be completed in June. Some 1,000 Turkish troops are to be deployed in Kabul in addition to the 260 Turkish troops already in place.

Turkey's military presence has been encouraged by the Bush administration which sees Turkey as a key ally in its ongoing campaign against global terrorism.

Speaking at a joint news conference both leaders recalled that ties between Turkey and Afghanistan went as far back as the early 20th century. Turkish troops helped form and train the Afghan army at that time. Mr. Karzai noted Thursday, Turkish troops were doing the same once again.

Mr. Ecevit said his government considered it what he termed a duty to help the Afghan nation to rebuild its shattered economy and infrastructure. He said steps had already been taken for Turkey to help build schools and hospitals in Afghanistan as well as to train personnel in diplomacy, health and education.

The two leaders also said they had discussed cooperation to combat illegal drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Mr. Ecevit said Turkey had extensive experience in this regard. Turkey is among the main transit routes for Afghan produced heroin sold in European markets. Turkish police have in recent months seized large quantities of heroin in a series of operations jointly conducted with U.S. drug enforcement agents.

During his stay, Mr. Karzai is also expected to meet with Turkish president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer.