Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Afghan force to fight corruption

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Western officials have called on Hamid Karzai to act

Afghan officials have announced the launch of a force to fight corruption, amid increasing Western pressure for the government to tackle the problem.

The unit will work with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency and EU police trainers, the government said.

The move came a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an Afghan "anti-corruption commission".

She also urged the Afghan president to set up a "major crimes tribunal".

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said the new force was being set up "for the sake of the Afghan people" and not as a result of external pressure.

"The idea of the unit is that all top-level employees in Afghanistan involved in corruption should be held responsible, both civilian and military, and if proved guilty they should be fired and prosecuted in accordance with the law," he said.

'Deeds required'

Mr Atmar was speaking three days before President Hamid Karzai, who was recently re-elected in a poll marred by fraud allegations, was due to be sworn in.

"For the next five years, the priority of Karzai is to fight corruption," he said.

US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who has warned against a large US troop increase unless Mr Karzai takes action against corruption, stressed that the announcement needed to be following up.

"Words are cheap. Deeds are required," he said.

"We share a vision of Afghanistan where justice is available to all and the institutions of government and society serve the wider interests of the people, not the narrow interests of the powerful."

Previous Afghan efforts have done little to curtail corruption, and few details were given on Monday about how the body would work with existing Afghan anti-corruption staff.

British Ambassador Mark Sedwill said President Karzai was expected to announce "a stronger anti-corruption law and commission" at his inauguration, but that it was also necessary to strengthen existing institutions.

Corruption "is not an issue between the Afghan government and the international community", he said. "It's an issue between Afghan institutions and the Afghan people."

On Sunday Mrs Clinton said President Karzai could "do better".

The US would not give civilian aid to Afghanistan unless it could track how it was used, she said.

Last week, Afghanistan's chief prosecutor said he had a list of senior officials, including current and former ministers, who were suspected of receiving illegal payments related to government contracts.

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