Top UN official in Afghanistan wants to leave

KABUL - December 11, 2009

Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, said he is not stepping down but has asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to start searching for a replacement.

"I'm not resigning," Eide told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It's a question of telling New York that I'm not renewing my contract."

Eide's tenure was tarnished by allegations from his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, that he was not bullish enough in curbing fraud in the August presidential election, which eventually awarded a second term to Hamid Karzai. Eide denied the charge and said controversy over the election was not linked to his decision not to renew his contract.

"The election controversy was between Peter Galbraith and the rest of the international community," he said, adding his plan when he took the job was to stay two years, as did his predecessors.

"Kai Eide is sticking to the timetable that he outlined when he took the job in March 2008," Dan McNorton, a U.N. spokesman in Kabul said.

Eide leads the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which coordinates the U.N. operation in the country. The U.N. mission is still reeling from a pre-dawn assault Oct. 28 on a guesthouse in Kabul where dozens of U.N. staffers lived. Gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed inside. Five U.N. workers were among those killed.

In response, the U.N. in November sent about 600 foreign staff out of the country or into safer quarters inside Afghanistan. The decision followed a drawdown of U.N. operations in neighboring Pakistan. The U.N. said the workers were only being temporarily relocated, but the decision raised questions about whether the world body could operate effectively in the region with war raging on both sides of the border.

Eide told AP he has proposed ways to make the international community cooperate more effectively in providing civilian assistance to Afghanistan but more needs to be done. NATO, which oversees military operations in Afghanistan, needs someone to coordinate work with provincial reconstruction teams and more expertise is needed from key donor countries, Eide said.

Speaking in Kabul, Eide lamented that civilian work remains too "fragmented," too "ad hoc," and expressed hope that future work done by the international community will be sustainable when foreign assistance declines.

Eide, who previously served in senior U.N. positions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, said he planned to stay until his contract expires but he wanted to give U.N. headquarters time to find someone to fill the job.

"I don't want there to be a vacuum," he said.

In northern Afghanistan on Friday, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visited Kunduz province where a Sept. 4 airstrike believed to have killed many civilians caused political turbulence in Berlin. German officials have said they plan to negotiate compensation for relatives of the victims.

German officials, citing a classified NATO report, have said up to 142 people were killed or wounded in the airstrike on two tanker trucks captured by the Taliban. Local Afghan leaders estimated the number of civilian deaths at between 30 and 40.

Guttenberg, who called the airstrike "militarily inappropriate," removed the military's chief of staff last month after learning that a German military report on the airstrike, which reportedly indicated civilians were killed, was never seen by the minister of defense.

Franz Josef Jung, the defense minister at the time of the airstrike, insisted for days after the attack that there was no evidence of civilian deaths. He has since resigned from his new job as labor minister.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops serving in northern Afghanistan, making it one of the principal contributors to the multinational NATO force in the country.

In the latest violence, two police officers and three civilians were killed Friday when a motorcyclist blew himself up in eastern Afghanistan. Five other officers and 16 civilians were wounded in the midday blast in a crowded area of Paktika province's capital Sharan, police chief of Gen. Dawlat Khan said.

A blast killed a child and wounded at least a dozen other civilians at a wedding in a province east of Kabul. Officials gave differing accounts of the explosion Thursday night in Nangarhar.

The Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, said a child was killed and 12 other people were wounded when someone threw a grenade. Provincial police spokesman Ghafor Khan said a mine exploded in a tent where males were celebrating and that 16 people were wounded in addition to the child who died. Khan said preliminary reports indicate a family dispute was behind the violence near the city of Jalalabad.

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