U.N. chief in Afghanistan, focus on lack of law and order

KABUL Fri Jun 29, 2007 7:19pm EDT

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he arrives at the presidential palace in Kabul June 29, 2007. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he arrives at the presidential palace in Kabul June 29, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai ahead of a conference in Rome next week that will seek ways to improve law and order in Afghanistan.

The meeting took place amid heavy security at the presidential palace, which still bears the scars of the past 30 years of conflict in the central Asian state.

Journalists were called to the palace, but there was no news conference.

Earlier this month, U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said Ban would make the establishment of the rule of law in Afghanistan a top priority at a conference to be held in Rome on July 2 and 3.

Koenigs said he was dissatisfied with the progress made in the last three to five years and an era of lawlessness, corruption, unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system had to end.

Karzai was hand-picked by Western governments to lead Afghanistan after U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, following al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington.

Afghans are growing increasingly impatient with Karzai, having voted for him as president in 2004, in the belief that he would bring about an economic revival and improve security for ordinary people.

Critics say Karzai has failed to stamp out corruption in government, and has little influence outside Kabul.

Afghanistan is the world's leading supplier of opium and heroin, and money from the drugs trade is helping to finance the Taliban insurgency.

But, some criminals and drug barons are linked to former warlords who helped U.S.-led forces evict the Taliban six years ago and who now serve inside government.

The lower house of parliament, populated by ex-warlords and former militia leaders along with suspected drug dealers, has also proposed a blanket amnesty for those who committed war crimes over nearly 30 years of conflict.

Meanwhile, Afghan police are poorly trained and ill equipped, and violent street crimes often go unpunished.

Ban also met General Dan McNeill, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, with Afghan anger growing over the growing number of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. and NATO military operations against insurgents in the south and east of the country.

On Friday, according to an Afghan rights group, U.S. soldiers killed an 85-year-old man, two of his sons and a grandson during a raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The soldiers arrested 15 people during the pre-dawn raid in Khogiani district, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Jalalabad, Lal Gul, the head of Afghanistan's Human Rights Group said.

A U.S. military official confirmed the operation and said coalition soldiers killed three militants after they came under fire and arrested 16 more militants.

But a provincial official said four civilians were killed in the operation. Villagers later protested chanting anti-U.S. and anti-Karzai slogans.

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