- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Suspected Taliban rebels killed at least 10 men after learning that they had registered for Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed national elections, the deadliest attack yet in a campaign aimed at sabotaging the nation’s first free vote, officials said yesterday.

The assault raised security fears and added to doubts about whether Afghanistan is ready to hold elections as planned in September. It also increased pressure on NATO leaders meeting today in Turkey to deploy more peacekeepers.

News of the killings, which occurred on Friday on a road in southern Uruzgan province, emerged a day after a bomb ripped through a bus carrying female election workers in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing two and wounding 13. A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Time is running out for the joint U.N.-Afghan electoral authority to decide on the election date, if the balloting is to be held according to schedule.

According to the electoral law, the date must be announced 90 days beforehand — which is July 2 if the vote is to take place on the last day of September.

The Uruzgan attack, which left 10 to 16 people dead, underscored the risks faced by Afghans if they want to exercise their democratic rights, particularly in lawless areas of the country plagued by Taliban-led insurgents who have threatened more attacks against election workers and voters.

Rozi Khan, the Uruzgan police chief, said assailants stopped a van carrying 12 men on a road about 18 miles from the provincial capital, Tirin Kot.

When the gunmen searched the men’s documents and found that the men had registered to vote, they opened fire. Two men escaped and alerted police, who found the 10 bodies but have made no arrests.

Obaidullah Khan, a political administrator of Uruzgan, said 16 persons had died and only one man had survived.

He said six or seven attackers had launched the assault, while others hid behind rocks nearby.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. military are adamant that the election can stick to schedule. Although, with only three days left for voter registration, only about half of the eligible people have signed up nationwide.

U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said yesterday that he expected the electoral authority to extend in some areas of the country the end-of-June deadline for registration, to address regional and sex imbalances in the electoral rolls.

A little more than 5 million voters have signed up, and only about one-third of them are women. Remote, Pashtun-dominated areas where insurgents are most active are lagging behind other regions.

Jean Arnault, the top United Nations’ envoy in Afghanistan, has urged NATO leaders at the Istanbul summit to send more troops ahead of the vote. The alliance has 6,400 peacekeepers here, largely confined to the capital, Kabul.

But Mr. Arnault insisted yesterday that attacks such as the bombing against the female election workers in Jalalabad should not be allowed to scuttle the election process.

“The best way we can pay tribute to the two women killed is to rededicate ourselves to this process,” he said.

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