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Afghan Minister Urges Militiamen to Surrender Weapons - 2002-08-14

The second battalion of Afghanistan's new national army graduated Wednesday at a ceremony led by Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Mr. Fahim used the occasion to appeal to Afghan militiamen to turn over their weapons to the central government.

About 280 soldiers and 36 officers got their graduation certificates Wednesday as the newest members of the fledgling Afghan National Army.

The recruits underwent 10 weeks of training by French military instructors. They join an American-trained battalion that graduated three weeks ago. The new soldiers are being assigned to guard Kabul's presidential palace.

Defense Minister Fahim pledged that the new army will stay out of politics and will not interfere in the daily lives of Afghanistan's war-weary citizens.

He also repeated the government's determination to collect the millions of weapons scattered around Afghanistan as a legacy of two decades of fighting. However, he did not offer any hint about how that goal will be achieved. So far, a disarmament program has yielded little more that some rusty rifles.

At an impromptu news conference, Mr. Fahim also declined to explain how the national army will take on some of the powerful warlords who dominate parts of southern, eastern and western Afghanistan.

He says warlords do not pose a problem for the Afghan Government, and that militias in outlying provinces are ready to hand over their guns.

His remarks appear to contradict recent statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah. They have condemned the actions of an ethnic Pashtun warlord, Bacha Khan Zadran. He commands a 3,000 man militia in southeastern Afghanistan that is defying the authority of a local governor appointed by Mr. Karzai.

Defense Minister Fahim also says he is not troubled by the continued cooperation between the U.S. military and Afghan militias in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and remnants of the former Taleban government.

He says the collaboration, which includes American monetary payments to militiamen, does not mean that the United States supports warlords who oppose the central government in Kabul.

President Karzai did not attend Wednesday's military graduation ceremony, although he had been scheduled to speak. Mr. Fahim, who is reported to have a stormy relationship with the president, says Mr. Karzai could not attend because of other pressing business.