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Afghanistan: Karzai Visits Brussels As European Union Releases More Aid

By Ahto Lobjakas

The European Commission has announced the final EU aid installment for Afghanistan under the five-year, 1 billion-euro ($1.27 billion) program announced at the Tokyo donors conference in 2002. After meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Brussels, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said 376 million euros will be released for 2005 and 2006 -- the final two years of the program. He also indicated the EU will in future be especially interested in supporting rural development in Afghanistan in order to discourage poppy cultivation, which supplies most of the heroin that reaches Europe.

Brussels, 12 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai that stabilizing Afghanistan will remain a key EU priority.

Marking the occasion of Karzai's visit to EU headquarters, Barroso also unveiled the last batch of EU aid under the assistance program agreed in Tokyo in January 2002.

"Today, we have delivered on our pledge by agreeing with President Karzai the final installment for 2005-2006," Barroso said. "So, we have respected our commitment of [giving] 1 billion euros [in] support [of] Afghanistan's stabilization."

In addition, the EU will also provide hundreds of millions of euros in humanitarian aid. According to the European Commission, the EU is the single biggest donor of aid to Afghanistan.

Barroso said the reconstruction aid budgeted for 2005 and 2006 will provide funds for Afghanistan's health sector; rural development, including counternarcotics activities; reshaping the public administration and the police; and human rights promotion. Barroso said he had also discussed with Karzai plans for the Afghan government to increase state revenues, so that "Afghanistan can shoulder more of the burden."

Karzai repeated the plea he made earlier this week before the European Parliament -- that is, for the EU to commit itself to assist Afghanistan beyond 2006. He said parliamentary elections scheduled for September are "just the beginning of the process" for his country, and that long-term assistance is needed.

"My request today [to] President Barroso was, as [was] my request was the day before yesterday [10 May] to the European Parliament, to continue to be with Afghanistan beyond the election of the parliament for a number of years to come," Karzai said. "I have asked today the European Union for a long-term partnership. And today again, I've asked his excellency, the president of the European Commission, for a long-term partnership with Afghanistan so that we can be eventually -- hopefully very soon -- on our own feet."

Barroso said the EU understands that Afghanistan will need further support. But Barroso said he is unable to give precise aid figures for the years beyond 2006, since the bloc has yet to agree a budget for the next fiscal term, from 2007 to 2013.

Barroso also said the EU will give a further 18.5 million euros to support the parliamentary elections, and another 3 million euros for the institutional development of the parliament once it is elected. The EU is also setting up an extended monitoring mission to help prepare for and observe the elections.

Barroso indicated one of the key EU goals for the longer term is combating poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan provides the opium for up to 80 percent of the heroin consumed in Europe. He said the EU understands the task will not be easy.

"There will be no quick fixes," he said. "We have to have perseverance and patience. We are committed to go on supporting rural development precisely as a way to face that challenge of narcotics in Afghanistan."

Karzai said he had informed Barroso of the Afghan government's plans to reduce poppy cultivation on a voluntary basis by 20 to 30 percent this year.

He said the EU and the rest of the international community must make parallel provisions for alternative livelihoods from other crops for Afghanistan's farmers. Drug production is estimated to make up nearly half of Afghanistan's economic output.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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