- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

PRAGUE First lady Laura Bush made an unprecedented radio broadcast from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty studios here, in which she urged the women of Afghanistan to help rebuild the war-torn country.

"You have a big opportunity and a lot at stake," she said in the address that was translated and then transmitted in the Farsi and Pashtu languages from the Prague headquarters of the U.S.-run radio network.

The 13-minute broadcast was also heard in 25 other countries and 32 other languages.

"We are with you," the first lady said. "I hope the women of Afghanistan will not stand on the sidelines as these decisions are made."

Mrs. Bush spoke on the final official stop of a solo European tour. She is to join President Bush in Germany today.

In a meeting with Afghan aid workers, Mrs. Bush was warned that peace there was fragile and depended on the presence of international troops.

"Without an international military presence, there will be no peace in Afghanistan, I'm sure," said Simon Panek, founder of the People in Need Foundation, a Czech aid group. "There are a lot of people there waiting for a fight."

Mr. Panek's organization operates in various parts of Afghanistan except for Kabul, where the foreign military presence is strongest.

In a subsequent interview he said: "There are quite a lot of small commanders who are getting used to being the rulers of their little kingdoms, which may only be a few villages. We need international forces on the ground."

The mere presence of U.S. helicopters was enough to make local warlords think twice about fighting, he said.

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