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Friday, December 29, 2006

Afghan President Criticizes Pakistani Mine Plan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced Pakistani plans to fence and mine sections of its border with Afghanistan. The proposal was announced earlier this week, amid mounting criticism from Afghanistan that Islamabad was not doing enough to end deadly cross-border raids by suspected Taleban insurgents. VOA corespondent Benjamin Sand reports from the Pakistani capital.

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged Pakistan to reconsider its controversial proposal, which he said would have little impact on cross-border terrorism, but would seriously disrupt local communities.

"We, politically, are against it. We, in terms of humanitarian values are against it. It's only going to prevent, hinder movement by civilian families," he said. "So, if they mean a separation of people, that is the way. If they mean a prevention of terrorism, that is not the way."

The plan was announced in Islamabad on Tuesday. Pakistan says it will fence and mine selected areas along its almost 2,500 kilometer long border with Afghanistan.

The border itself remains both ill-defined and largely unguarded more than a hundred years after it was initially drawn by the British.

Local Pashtun tribesmen live on either side of the so-called Durand line, and travel relatively unhindered across the border.

Afghan officials say Taleban insurgents are doing the same thing after establishing a series of base camps inside Pakistan. They say such bases are a major factor in a surge of militant violence in the last 12 months.

More than 4,000 people have been killed this year, with most of the fighting occurring in those Afghan provinces sharing a border with Pakistan.

Thursday, President Karzai said the only way to defeat the militants would be to eradicate their safe havens.

Mr. Karzai has repeatedly accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the insurgents, and relations between the two countries have become increasingly strained in the last year.

U.N. officials in both countries were also quick to speak out against the new proposal. U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique voiced his concerns to reporters in Kabul on Wednesday.

"Afghanistan is already one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, and it's very difficult to see how laying fresh mines would be of benefit to people living on either side of the border," said Siddique.

Pakistan meanwhile insists the plan would only be executed inside its national borders where it has the right to operate however it sees fit.

Islamabad says it is doing everything it can to help improve regional security.

Pakistan has already deployed some 80,000 soldiers to help secure the border, and recently announced plans to send additional forces to the troubled region.

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