In a statement welcoming the handover yesterday of 400 heavy and light weapons by a former mujahideen commander, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Jean Arnault, also expressed serious concern that the Afghan Defence Ministry's plan to disarm some 40,000 irregular fighters by 30 June has otherwise stalled.
"There is no valid reason to delay the implementation of this important Government initiative," his spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said at a press briefing in the capital, Kabul. "The military units that are to be decommissioned or downsized.are not active in the protection of the country's security - neither in combating terrorism nor in fighting organized crime or drug trafficking.
"Quite the contrary," he added, "many of them have been, in the past two years, involved in factional fighting, which is a continuing cause of instability - and of suffering for the communities affected by it."
The Defence Ministry adopted the plan at the end of March, but five weeks on, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme has not yet started, and, according to Mr. de Almeida e Silva, "the possibility that it will be completed in time is now in very serious jeopardy."
Less than two weeks ago, UNAMA voiced concern that some militia commanders were slow in handing over lists of their soldiers, posing potential stumbling blocks to efforts to begin the programme in earnest.
Mr. de Almeida e Silva stressed that the plan had been "no small factor" behind the confidence and support expressed by the international community at a donor conference held in March in Berlin - where some $8.2 billion was pledged towards Afghanistan's reconstruction over the next three years, with $4.4 billion set aside for the first year. "Further stalling of the DDR programme is bound to have very negative consequences," he warned.
"The Afghan people know from bitter experience that the country will not enjoy lasting peace until rival armies have demobilized and been replaced by one national army under central government control," he said. "They have stressed again and again that a national election could be a genuine exercise in free political choice only after guns cease to be a tool for influence and interference in the hands of local power holders."
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