Afghanistan talks won't be held in Switzerland

The Northern Alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, had commented favorably on Switzerland Keystone

Despite Switzerland's offer to host a conference on a new government in Afghanistan, talks will be held Germany, instead.

This content was published on November 20, 2001 - 11:17

According to United Nations officials in the Afghan capital of Kabul, the conference will take place in Berlin on Saturday, Iranian state radio reported. A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman said that the government "did not think the meeting would be held in Switzerland."

Switzerland had sent signals to the United Nations that it was willing to host the conference in Geneva, foreign ministry spokesman Ruedi Christen told swissinfo. Swiss authorities are still waiting for a formal response.

Diplomatic efforts to fill the power vacuum caused by Afghan opposition forces' rout of the Taliban in the north of the country, have intensified.

Geneva setting

Christen had said Geneva was an ideal location to bring together the various factions fighting for control of Afghanistan. The Geneva offices of the United Nations was one possible venue.

"I presume that this is an urgent situation," so the conference was expected to be scheduled quickly, Christen told swissinfo.

Opposition forces will take part

The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance says it will take part in a meeting to decide the shape of a government in Europe as early as this week.

"We are committed to the formation of a fully representative, broad-based government," the Northern Alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, told a news conference.

He said a meeting should take place soon, possibly in Switzerland. "It should be held outside Afghanistan. Some of the venues proposed by (UN envoy to Afghanistan Franscesc) Vendrell are acceptable to us - Germany, Switzerland or Austria."

Abdullah was in Uzbekistan for a meeting with Uzbek officials and James Dobbins, the United States representative to the Afghan opposition.

Abdullah said that Pashtuns, who make up a large part of the ruling Taliban leadership and are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, would be welcomed in the new government.

"There should be a fair chance for everybody to play their role," he said.

Reconciliation efforts

"Switzerland has a high reputation in Afghanistan, a sound knowledge of its problems and good contacts. We were involved in reconciliation efforts between the different groups from 1999 to 2000," Christen said.

Neutral Switzerland's plans to do more than play host to the Afghanistan conference remain open, Christen said. "Switzerland has an interest to play an active role in the post-war period."

The US-led military campaign in Afghanistan began on October 7. Its continuous bombing raids on Taliban positions have facilitated the Northern Alliance's campaign to oust the Taliban.

Washington accuses the Taliban of harbouring the Saudi-born militant, Osama bin Laden, who it believes masterminded the September 11 attacks in the US.

No plans to send Swiss troops

The defence minstry has ruled out sending Swiss peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan. Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said that unlike the Balkans (where there is a contingent of Swiss soldiers), Afghanistan was not a direct Swiss interest.

In an interview with the "Neue Luzerner Zeitung", Schmid did raise the possibility of dispatching military observers to war-torn Afghanistan.

by Samantha Tonkin with agencies

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