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3/31/04 - AFGHANISTAN DISARMAMENT - 2004-03-31

In Kandahar, a group of Afghan militia members –- numbering one thousand –- have laid down their weapons. This follows on the heels of successful disarmament projects in Kunduz, Gardez, and Kabul that have demobilized almost four-thousand former militia members. President Hamid Karzai has set a target of disarming fifty-thousand combatants, and programs are already in place to integrate demobilized forces into the police, the national army, or civilian life.

“I’m going to give up my weapons,” Zaulat Khan told the Associated Press news service. “It’s the order of our federal government, and every soldier should obey the orders of their government.”

Khan Mohammed said his militia “fought against Russia, and they spent most of their life in the defense of their country. Our wish and our desire,” says Mr. Mohammed, “is that Afghanistan rewards them.” Afghan officials said former militiamen who do not join the government forces will be given help farming or starting businesses. Sultan Aziz, a United Nations adviser in Afghanistan, says, “The idea is not only just to provide work but also to provide the possibility for businesses so people can...start operating in a proper and profitable manner.”

President George W. Bush says, “The people of Afghanistan are a world away from the nightmare of the Taleban”:

“Citizens of Afghanistan have adopted a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. The new Afghan army is becoming a vital force of stability in the country. Businesses are opening. Health care centers are being established, and the children of Afghanistan are back in school, boys and girls.”

As former militiaman Fazal Rehman told a reporter, Afghanistan “is going on the right path.... Within a few years, our country will be in good shape.”