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12/26/03 - AFGHANS TURNING IN WEAPONS - 2003-12-29

In a survey conducted this year by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium, eighty-three percent of Afghans surveyed feel safer today than they did three years ago when the Taleban regime was in power. Afghan police and security forces are being reconstituted. Reconstruction projects, including roads, schools, and health centers, are underway.

“To me,” says Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “the important thing is that Afghanistan has once again become a common home for all Afghans.” One example of Afghans coming together is the process of disarming and demobilizing the regional and ethnic militias. This month, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek leader, and Atta Mohammed, an ethnic Tajik, said that their militias would lay down their arms.

Troops of the NATO-led security force are assisting the Afghan Ministry of Defense in removing heavy weapons from armed factions in Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley. The weapons include tanks, artillery pieces, and missiles. They will be taken to government facilities near Kabul.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea says, “This initiative represents a crucial step toward the enhancement of stability, as envisioned under the terms of the Bonn Accord. It also constitutes,” says Mr. Shea, “an important step toward the further development of a capable Afghan national army, as it is likely that most of these weapons will eventually be used to equip national army units.”

President George Bush says, “The people of Afghanistan are moving forward”:

“Afghanistan still has many challenges, but that country is making progress, and its people are a world away from the nightmare they endured under the Taleban.”

As the weapons in the Panjshir Valley were being turned in, General Bismillah Khan told reporters that the weapons are “the property of the Afghan people, not of any one faction.”