U.N. extends Afghanistan mission until early 2005

Saturday, March 27, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan by another year Friday, and urged it to speed up voter registration so historic elections set for this summer are not delayed. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has been helping the country rebuild since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in late 2001. Its main focus recently has been preparing for national elections set for June.

The Security Council resolution, adopted 15-0, keeps the mission, known by its acronym UNAMA, in place until March 27, 2005.

The resolution calls on the mission to work with Afghan authorities to extend government control to all parts of Afghanistan, and says UNAMA must speed up the voter registration process.

In a March 19 report to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said 1.46 million voters had registered by March 15 -- well short of the eventual target of 10.5 million.

Earlier this month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the country may have to delay elections because so few people are registered.

Registration has been crippled by violence and instability in much of the country. Karzai's government has little control outside the capital Kabul, though NATO-led peacekeepers are setting up bases in other areas.

"Insecurity in the country continues to follow a well-known pattern and shows no sign of significant improvement," Annan said in his report.

The resolution says the Security Council is also concerned about Afghanistan's resurgent drug trade. In February, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report saying two of every three opium producers said they would increase output in the next year.

The U.N. mission's mandate over the next year is expected to be better defined after a March 31-April 1 conference in Berlin on Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Also Friday, Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program, urged the international community not to forget about Afghanistan and backed a report from Karzai's government released this week that concludes Afghanistan will need $27.5 billion in foreign aid over the next seven years.

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