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Afghanistan At Risk As Troops Leave

Afghanistan At Risk As Troops Leave Following Successful Presidential Poll - Annan

On the eve of the inauguration of Afghanistan's first democratically elected President, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that despite key political gains, the country faces broad security threats as coalition and other international troops reduce their ranks.

In a new report to both the General Assembly and the Security Council, Mr. Annan cites extremist or terrorist attacks, factional clashes among militia forces and criminal violence often linked to narcotrafficking.

"Without substantial progress in addressing the sources of insecurity, reconstruction efforts and the establishment of viable State institutions will continue to falter, and the economy may well be subsumed by the illicit-drugs industry," he warns.

"The deployment now of additional international forces, with robust and uniform rules of engagement, can provide the critical space in which progress can be made in the mutually reinforcing areas of security-sector reform, anti-narcotics activities, reconstruction, expansion of government authority and imposition of the rule of law."

At the same time, the report notes that for the first time, Afghans have "a directly elected President endowed with a strong popular mandate."

President Hamid Karzai has an opportunity now to select an effective Cabinet that is able to extend government authority throughout the country and deliver basic services, Mr. Annan writes, adding that a competent and diverse administration will be critical for advancing national reconciliation.

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He also says that the gradual handing over of functions to the Afghan Government - for example, in the electoral field and in demining - "is a positive indicator of developments" over the past three years, since the Bonn Agreement set up the transitional phase now in place.

Many issues, including social indicators and human rights, remain insufficiently addressed, he adds. But the Secretary-General asserts that "it is a cause for hope and optimism that Afghans have embraced with such enthusiasm the transition to civilian, democratic rule."

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser, arrived in today in the capital Kabul to head the UN delegation that will attend President Karzai's inauguration tomorrow.

During his three-day stay in Kabul, Mr. Brahimi is scheduled to meet with President Karzai and other senior Afghan officials, and will also hold discussions with Jean Arnault, the chief of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and UN agency heads.

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