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UN Peacekeeper Reconstruction Project Brings Hope to Afghan School Children - 2002-08-03

United Nations peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan are undertaking civic reconstruction projects around the capital, Kabul. The aim is not just to help Afghanistan rebuild. It also creates goodwill toward the foreign soldiers among local residents.

Under a broiling desert sun, a platoon of French soldiers is building a new school for the north Kabul village of Anijirak.

Brick-by-brick, the walls of the school are going up on a plain below the mountain village. The project began in mid-July. The troops hope to finish the job by the end of August.

The idea for the school came from Niaz Mohammed, the local malik, or mayor, of Anijirak. He works beside the French soldiers, stacking bricks.

Mr. Mohammed says he is grateful for the foreign assistance. And he recognizes it will take time to get help from the new central government in Kabul.

Mr. Mohammed compares the government of transitional President Hamid Karzai to a young tree putting down its roots. He says that, when the tree eventually bears fruit, Anijirak will benefit.

Colonel George Peillon is a spokesman for the French military contingent assigned to U.N. peacekeeping duties in Kabul.

He says Anijirak has a Muslim religious school, called a madrassa, but the villagers wanted a school for secular education.

"The people said, 'We need a school because we have nothing. There is only a madrassa school.' The infantry company decided to build a school for the people. And, we hope there so that, maybe 300 boys [will be] in the school," he said.

Colonel Peillon said the project not only helps the village, French troops will benefit from improved safety and cooperation from the villagers.

"With these kinds of projects, we increase the good relationship with the local people. And, local people can see the French work with, also, the malik, the chief of the village. He is also working with the French soldiers," he explained.

Safety is important for the French troops, because they patrol one of the riskiest sectors of the Kabul region for the U.N. International Security Assistance Force.

The peacekeepers are providing the Karzai government with security patrols around the capital. About 5,000 soldiers from 19 countries are participating in the international force.

Lieutenant Didier Pischedda commands a company of French infantrymen who patrol the rugged mountains north of Kabul airport.

Lieutenant Pischedda said his men have been manning observation posts at the Anijirak Pass, since unidentified assailants fired rockets at the airport two months ago.

Villagers trudging past the French troops along the mountain road between Kabul city and Anijirak say they are grateful for the school, but the village has other pressing needs.

Village women and girls now travel several kilometers to fetch water from a neighboring town. Residents say they would like international help to drill a well.