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Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-09-03

After talks in Paris with international envoys on Afghanistan's future, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said troops will stay to secure the country until agriculture, health and education projects can take hold.

Western troops cannot leave Afghanistan until the region has been made secure, France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday after a meeting with international envoys in Paris.
   
"We want to bring our decisive support to the Afghan population, with projects linked to agriculture, health, and education," Kouchner said after talks with US special envoy Richard Holbrooke and counterparts from 25 other countries and organisations.
   
"Of course for that we need to bring security," he told a news conference.
   
"We cannot envisage the departure of troops unless the region is secure enough to benefit from these projects, and from the large amounts of money donated by the international community."


The envoys gathered in Paris to chart a way forward after claims of massive fraud cast a pall over Afghanistan's presidential election and threatened to set back peace efforts.
   
The meeting comes two days after the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan presented a gloomy assessment of the nearly eight-year war to defeat the Taliban and called for a shift in strategy.
   
Already, 2009 has been a record-breaking year for the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan and questions are being asked over the fate of billions of dollars in international aid poured into the country.
   
Afghanistan's election commission is investigating more than 2,500 complaints of irregularities from the August 20 vote and preliminary results are not expected to be announced before Monday.
   
With ballots from nearly half the polling stations announced, President Hamid Karzai was leading his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, but he was still short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off.

 

Speaking to reporters before the meeting about Afghanistan's August 20 elections, Holbrooke said the international community has "no preference" as to whether a second round run-off should be held to decide the winner of the presidential poll.
   
"We have no candidates and no preference as to a first round victory or a run-off," he told reporters at the French foreign ministry.
   
"Our advocacy is for a fair process overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission, taking into account the decisions of the electoral complaints commission," Holbrooke added.

Date created : 2009-09-03

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