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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 13 January 2005

AFGHANISTAN: Containment of heavy weapons stalled in Panjshir

DASHTAK, 10 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - A UN-backed programme to contain heavy weapons in the northern Panjshir Valley has been temporarily interrupted by local ex-militia groups who threatened to block the valley if the process continued.

The incident happened on Monday in Dashtak district, about 100 km north of the capital, Kabul, a day after the UN and the Afghan Ministry of Defence (MOD) officially launched the cantonment of heavy weapons in Panjshir, already delayed by several weeks after prolonged negotiations. Panjshir is the former stronghold of Northern Alliance forces, who helped the US-led coalition topple the hard-line Taliban regime in
December 2001.

Hundreds of heavy weapons such as tanks, mutiple rocket launchers and field artillery are still held by varying local militia forces in the valley, which first experienced war at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

According to the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), that coordinates disarmament and weapons collection in Afghanistan, more than 95 percent of the heavy weapons in the country have been collected since the process began in early January 2004. The process of containing the arms is now complete in five regions, with almost 8,00o items collected so far.

But, according to estimates, there are some 110 heavy weapons in the Panjshir Valley yet to be collected. So far, four artillery pieces and one armoured personnel carrier have been successfully cantoned in the northern city of Jabal Seraj.

"The heavy weapons identified in Panjshir Valley constitute the majority of those assessments still outstanding in the nationwide cantonment of HW [heavy weapons]," Jesko Johannsen, an information officer for the ANBP, told IRIN.

Those protesting against the process on Tuesday told IRIN that they were ex-Jehadi officers who had seized the weapons from the Russians and the Taliban over the past two decades and now demanded salaries and privileges from the Afghan Ministry of Defence (MOD) to sustain their families.

"The MOD promised us that they would pay our salaries before they collected these weapons that we collected and saved with our blood over the past two decades," Mohammad Qayoum, a local militiaman, told IRIN.

Meanwhile, others warned that there was still the risk of further conflict in the area and that they would need the weapons to protect the valley. "Who can guarantee that there will not be further conflicts? These weapons are like our dignity," dozens of unarmed angry men shouted as they tried to stop the process.

But after half a day's delay, the collection process resumed after local authorities deployed dozens of police along the route of the valley and the area of heavy weapons collection.

Faqir Ahmad, chief of police in Panjshir, told IRIN that he expected such reaction and had already notified the MOD. "I told General Besmellah [the MOD chief of staff] that they should completely convince these people first and meet their requirements," he said, adding that all proper measures had
now been taken for the process to resume.

It is expected the surveyed heavy weapons in Panjshir will be collected over the next two weeks.

[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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