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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 15:38 GMT
Warlords 'risk' Afghan reconstruction
Boys pump water in Kandahar
An international effort is needed to rebuild Afghanistan
Major aid donors to Afghanistan, meeting in Brussels to debate aid for the country as it emerges from two decades of war, have been told the country's warlords are threatening the country's redevelopment.

Our political message to (Afghan) ethnic groups and leaders is that we cannot help them if a civil war starts again

US aid administrator
The European Union Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, said the activities of these local armies - with their continued looting of aid convoys - were the most worrying aspect of the task ahead.

The administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, said donors must send the warlords a clear message that reconstruction will only take place in return for stability and security.

Delegates from nearly 100 countries, international bodies and non-governmental organisations at the two-day conference are assessing funds and identifying the most urgently needed schemes ahead of a meeting in Tokyo in January.

Window of opportunity

"Our political message to (Afghan) ethnic groups and leaders is that we cannot help them if a civil war starts again," said Mr Natsios.

"If you keep peace, we will help."

He also said that the international community must act now if it is to re-write history in Afghanistan, stressing that Washington was in for the long haul.

Chris Patten and Andrew Natsios
The EU and the United States are both involved in the conference

"It is imperative that this window...provide the base for long-term reconstruction," he said. Otherwise, he said, "it will strengthen the centrifugal forces that will once again tear apart the country."

But Mr Patten noted it was "an awesome task" that lay ahead.

"We are dealing with a failed state... with no working institutions, its infrastructure in ruins, many of its best brains in exile," he said.

Poul Nielson, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said the Afghan diaspora, many whom have acquired valuable skills, needed to be enticed back.

Fast-track aid approved

The conference was organised by a donors' group formed in Washington on 20 November under the auspices of the European Union, the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Afghanistan is represented at the conference by its finance minister-designate, Hedayat Amin Arsala.

The focus of the Brussels meeting is to deliberate how to parcel out the major funding.

However, two small fast-track donations were signed on Thursday - one for 2.5m euros ($2.25m) from the European Commission and one for $1m from the US for the interim authority which takes power on Saturday. The aid is earmarked to set up governing institutions and human rights commissions.

Priorities chosen

Mr Natsios said long-term aid priorities would include the supply of food, the return of refugees and creating conditions for the Afghan economy to start producing jobs.

He said that about one-third of Afghans were relying on humanitarian aid to feed themselves but no widespread famine was expected this winter.

He also said a major concern was to bring women back into post-Taleban Afghan society.

"The best way to achieve this is to quickly open up schools - two-thirds of teachers are women," he said.

The European Commission says that up to $2bn could be needed every year for the next five years to rebuild cities and transport systems, boost the crippled farming sector and restart public institutions.

See also:

09 Dec 01 | South Asia
Breakthrough in Afghan aid effort
15 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN aid shipment reaches Afghanistan
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
New wave of refugees feared
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN prepares major Afghan relief effort
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