Page last updated at 04:55 GMT, Saturday, 5 September 2009 05:55 UK

EU mulls Afghan stability plans

Nato soldiers approach an Afghan family
Countryside projects could boost economic recovery

European ministers are expected to use a summit to discuss ways to promote stability in Afghanistan by focusing on civilian reconstruction.

The meeting, in Sweden, comes one day after Nato said civilians were likely to be among up to 90 people killed in an air strike in Afghanistan's north.

A number of ministers have called for a quick inquiry, and the US has expressed "great concern" at the incident.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said targeting civilians was "unacceptable".

Both Nato and the Afghan president have pledged to hold investigations into the air strike.

German troops called in the raid after Taliban rebels hijacked two fuel tankers in the northern province of Kunduz.

Nato said many Taliban insurgents who had taken the tankers were killed but it admitted it had reports of many civilian casualties.

The Nato-led forces in Afghanistan said they regretted "any unnecessary loss of human life".

A statement from Mr Karzai's office said the president expressed "deep sorrow for the loss of our compatriots" and "emphasised that innocent civilians must not be killed or wounded during military operations".

Drug eradication

As EU foreign ministers gathered for Saturday's meeting, there were fears that the deadly air strike risked undermining the credibility of the international presence in Afghanistan, reports the BBC's Oana Lungescu, in Stockholm.

No-one in the EU is talking about an exit strategy, but all insist that insecurity cannot be addressed by military means alone, our correspondent adds.

Site of the tanker strike in Kunduz province
The tanker air strike killed at least 90 people

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the EU had to promote economic growth through projects in the countryside to replace drug trafficking and the cultivation of opium poppies.

Also high on the ministers' priority list is the training of new security forces. The EU has around 400 police trainers in Afghanistan and has promised to double that, but deployment has been slow.

The EU, like other international donors, is closely watching the vote count in the presidential election, marred by serious fraud allegations, our correspondent says.

A further tranche of official results are due to be released on Saturday.

With ballots from 60.3% of polling stations tallied, Mr Karzai has 1,744,428 votes to 1,201,838 for Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger, representing a lead of 47.3% to 32.6%.

A result is scheduled for 17 September but fraud allegations must be cleared before it is made official.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said it hoped to arrange a post-summit between the Afghan government and international partners to promote democracy.

Details where still being decided, but officials said the summit was likely to be held in the Afghan capital, Kabul, early next year.

Satellite image showing the area of the air strike

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