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Italian Premier Makes Surprise Visit To Afghanistan

November 04, 2012

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti arrived in Afghanistan on November 4 for an unannounced visit to see troops serving with the international coalition there and pledge that Italy would "by no means leave Afghanistan alone" after a military pullout in 2014.

Monti first visited the NATO-led Italian contingent serving in the western province of Herat.

He then traveled to Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"We look forward to 2014 as a year of change but not as a year of rupture," Monti said after the meeting with Karzai. "Italy, like most other countries, will transform its support for Afghanistan but will by no means leave Afghanistan alone."

Monti said the new relationship should be based more on economic cooperation than military aid.

He noted that he and Karzai signed a partnership agreement in Rome in January for ongoing economic and development support.

"It will be [an international presence in Afghanistan] based less on military contributions, it will be a presence based far more on economic cooperation, it will be cooperation on the exploration and use of Afghanistan's important mineral resources," Monti said, "and it will be a cooperation, as it already is in this phase, of 'institution building' to make Afghanistan an ever more solid country."

Monti also said that he hoped that Afghanistan's presidential election in 2014 would give the country a reason to celebrate its progress.

The previous presidential and parliamentary polls were marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

Karzai reiterated a call to remove foreign observers from an election watchdog group that monitored fraud in previous votes.

Karzai said putting foreigners in such a place of power threatens Afghanistan's national sovereignty.

Italy has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan and plans to withdraw them -- with the rest of the NATO-led coalition troops -- by the end of 2014.

Fifty-two Italians have been killed in the 11-year international military campaign against Taliban insurgents.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/italy-prime-minister-surprise-visit-to-afghanistan/24760352.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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