Nine killed in Afghanistan clashes

Five soldiers were among nine killed and three others were injured in two separate incidents of violence in southern Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

    Violence in the last week has left 51 dead and scores wounded

    Afghan troops clashed with drug smugglers near a government post in a remote area of Kandahar province on Saturday, said Mohammad

    Anas, deputy governor of the province.

    The fighting left five soldiers dead and three wounded, Anas added.

    The soldiers were killed after they tried to stop the smugglers from trafficking drugs into Pakistan, a key export source for Afghan narcotics.

    In another incident on Saturday, four Taliban members were killed in a clash with troops in Helmand province while they were planting land

    mines on a road often used by soldiers, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

    Violence, including twin bomb blasts on Tuesday in Kandahar, has killed 51 people and wounded several dozen in less than a week in

    southern Afghanistan, underlining growing insecurity.

    More than 450 people including 'militants', Afghan troops, civilians, aid workers and more than 12 members of US-led troops have been killed

    since August in violence largely blamed on the Taliban.

    President Hamid Karzai vowed on Saturday the violence would not deter him from rebuilding Afghanistan, battered by 23 years of

    invasion and civil strife.

    Doubts over elections

    President Karzai has vowed to
    hold polls by June

    The deadly attacks in the past week has cast fresh doubts over Afghanistan's plan to hold its first ever free elections in June.

    Analysts say Karzai is under pressure from his backers in Washington to hold the vote as soon as possible, so it can be touted as a foreign

    policy victory by President George Bush, as he seeks re-election in November.

    But the consequences could be seriously damaging for Afghanistan, they warn.

    "It is far too soon," said Ahmad Rashid, an Afghan expert based in Pakistan. "I think they should be postponed for at least a year, perhaps

    until spring 2005."

    Karzai vowed on Saturday to contest the presidential election and reiterated he aimed to hold it as planned in June.

    However, UN officials have said June looks an impossible target, unless security improves significantly.

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Afghanistan faced "a deterioration in security at precisely the point where the peace process

    demands the opposite".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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