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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

AFGHANISTAN: Highway security force to boost reconstruction work

KABUL, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - Following a series of armed attacks on aid agencies and others along the Kabul-Kandahar highway, the Afghan government has announced that a 700-man security force will be deployed along the 540-km route to ensure the security of foreign companies working on the highway. This being Afghanistan's principal road, connecting the capital with the south and west of the country, its rehabilitation is seen as vital.

"Seven hundred policemen as a component of a national highway security contingent have been prepared and will be deployed along the road very soon," Ali Ahmad Jalali, the interior minister, told IRIN in the capital, Kabul on Thursday.

According to Jalali, the decision was taken after the companies working on the road, which Kabul hopes to see paved this year, applied for further security measures to ensure the safety of their staff in the field.

Insecurity in the area over the past few months has resulted in aid and development agencies postponing or suspending their operations following the killing of three aid workers by unidentified men on the highway.

The highway's rehabilitation, a multimillion-dollar project funded by the US, Japan and Saudi Arabia and inaugurated by the Afghan president last November, is seen to be one of the most ambitious reconstruction projects in the country.

"I am confident that with the deployment of the new police force, security will be ensured and the first asphalt-treated base of the road will be successfully completed by the end of December 2003," an officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) told IRIN in Kabul, adding that USAID had already contracted with four international firms, comprising three from Turkey and one from India, which would start the work simultaneously very soon.

"It will be a labour-intensive work, and around 5,000 people will be employed," the USAID representative said.

The UN welcomed the government's move, and announced that if security were strengthened, the UN would resume mine clearance in the areas where it had been suspended due to armed attacks and other security problems. "It is a positive step, and now that the security is being put in place, we can do our job," David Edwards, the chief of operations for the UN's Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA), told IRIN, noting that UNMACA had already resumed mine clearance on the sections of the road where security had been put in place.

For the completion of the road reconstruction, Edwards said mine clearance was crucial along many parts of the road, and if security was no longer problematic, UNMACA could do the job this year. Some 440 deminers would be employed by UNMACA to clear the highway-reconstruction site of mines and unexploded ordnance, he added.

While over the past decade of internal conflict, Afghanistan's highways, particularly those connecting the capital to the south, north and east of the country, have experienced a rash of security incidents, including robberies, muggings, kidnappings and extortion by bandits and local warlords. Moreover, since last year, armed attacks and ambushes against aid workers have become a serious concern for the government and the international aid community.

"We have prioritised the road to the south. The highway-protection-force contingent will be broadly expanded, and its branches in the provinces will ensure security along the highways of the country in future," Jalali said.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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