Afghans Living in Fear, Says U.N. Official.

Despite a heavy western military presence and a two-year-old U.S.-backed government in Kabul, Afghanistan has been reduced to a country with no rule of law, a senior U.N. official warned Monday.

The security situation in Afghanistan ''is very bad'', U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi told Afghan delegates at the closing ceremony of the constitutional Loya Jirga, the grand council of Afghanistan.

Following three weeks of intense debate, the Loya Jirga announced Monday that it had agreed on a new constitution for Afghanistan.

The 502 delegates from throughout the country also approved a democratic presidential system and a bicameral national assembly, and decided to hold nation-wide elections in six months.

Brahimi implicitly criticised the government, the police, the army, the international community and the 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for failing to remove the insecurity in the country.

''There is, of course, what we see in our press, what we hear about on the radio, what we see on television about bombs that blow up here and there, about rockets that fall here and there,'' he said.

''But there is (also) the insecurity we don't see in the press: the fear that is in the heart of practically every Afghan because there is no rule of law yet in this country,'' he added.

Brahimi, known to be outspoken, is expected to leave his U.N. job later this month.

Asked to confirm rumours that the former Algerian foreign minister was being offered a job to head U.N. operations in Iraq, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters last week: ''Frankly, I don't think Mr. Brahimi is looking for another challenging U.N. job."

"I think he feels he has done all he can for the United Nations. We're especially grateful to him for lending his prestige and his support and his hard work to the Afghan process.''

Brahimi's statement about growing insecurity in Afghanistan comes amid reports that the United Nations is thinking of either downsizing its operations or pulling out its international staff for security reasons -- as it did in Iraq last year after the U.N.. compound was bombed.

In November, Bettina Goislard, a French citizen working for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was gunned down while riding in a car in the provincial city of Ghazni. She was the first U.N. staff member to be killed in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, an Afghan aid worker employed by the Christian emergency relief group Shelter for Life was kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants on Afghanistan's main highway.

The militants have continued to target aid workers, accusing them of being key allies of western nations whose military forces are occupying Afghanistan.

Asked if attacks on foreign aid workers were aimed at forcing the United Nations to leave, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters last month that ''certain elements in Afghanistan wanted to discourage any foreign presence in the country''.

''It was necessary to ensure that such elements did not have the support of the population, which already saw the benefits of the work by the United Nations on a number of fronts, including de-mining and education,'' he added.

But Guehenno warned that the United Nations needs to be mindful of the security of its staff and to evaluate carefully the situation on the ground.

In a report released last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the deteriorating security situation was ''a major concern'' throughout the country, ''with criminality, factional fighting and the illegal narcotics trade all having a negative impact''.

Brahimi said the people of Afghanistan are afraid of the guns held by the ''wrong people'', which are not being used to defend them nor to wage a ''holy war'', but to frighten and terrorise people.

''I have heard of people speak of these so-called commanders who have private jails in several parts of the country, and I know of more than one instance where these commanders arrest people for no reason whatsoever, except because they want (to take over) their properties, they want their house or they want their daughter in marriage.''

Brahimi also told delegates that he knows of an Afghan who calls himself a ''mujahideen'' (freedom fighter) and commander, but who has been terrorising an entire district. ''I also know of somebody who calls himself a policeman who is terrorising a whole city,'' he said.

Both individuals, he pointed out, say they have the support of ''important people in this country''.

Brahimi said he told the government in Kabul about both cases.

''We very much hope that the government will not only take measures against these individuals but also stop this kind of misbehaviour all over the country. These people are giving a bad name to jihad (holy war),'' he added.

Last month, Brahimi also criticised U.S. bombings that recently killed Afghan children and civilians.

Following the killing of nine children after a U.S. attack on an Afghan village Dec. 7, Brahimi said: ''This type of incident has a destabilising effect, adding to the sense of insecurity and fear in the country''.

The incident was the second time in one week that children had been killed in U.S. air raids.

''Unfortunately and worryingly, this type of incident also makes it easier for those who are trying to spoil the peace process to rally support for their cause,'' Brahimi warned.

[Source: Thalif Deen by IPS, ONU, 05Jan03]

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