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UN chief warns Afghan attacks could hurt election
( 2004-01-07 13:47) (Agencies)

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on Tuesday that violence in Afghanistan could jeopardize crucial mid-year elections, saying the peace process had reached a "critical juncture."

In a report to the Security Council, Annan said Afghanistan had undergone "a deterioration in security at precisely the point where the peace process demands the opposite."

The report was released just hours after a bomb ripped through the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killing at least 12 people, including several children. In a separate statement Annan condemned the Kandahar killings as "heinous acts of violence."

A wave of bloodshed in the country has claimed more than 400 lives since August. The United Nations says there have been more attacks against civilians in the past three months than in the 20 months following the Bonn agreement in December 2001. That pact set out a political process leading to presidential and perhaps legislative elections later in the year.

"The peace process in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture," Annan wrote in the report.

He warned that registering voters cannot be accomplished when it is unsafe for registration teams to gain access to many parts of the country, especially in the south and southeast where U.N. aid workers have been withdrawn.

He said the number of registration centers is too low and could disenfranchise 10 million voters before the presidential elections, scheduled in June.

The latest attacks -- by Taliban elements, warlord loyalists and possibly Al Qaeda -- prompted a call by Annan for a new political and donor conference in the first months of 2004 as one way to address security and financial contributions to rebuild the country.

Some progress was made earlier this week after rival Afghan factions agreed on a new national constitution, clearing the way for the country's first free elections since after nearly a quarter century of war.

In a statement, the U.N. Security Council welcomed the constitution as a "very significant step on the path toward a peaceful, prosperous and democratic" country.

But like Annan, the council's statement read by its current president, Ambassador Heraldo Munoz of Chile, deplored recent acts of violence and pleaded for the creation of a secure environment.

The 15-member council on Jan. 15 will hear the last report from Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, who was one of the main architects of the political process as chief U.N. representative in Afghanistan.

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