Kabul/Vienna, 16 February 2013 Press release

APA: Spindelegger in Kabul: Negotiations on the return of rejected asylum seekers

The meeting with President Karzai – Foreign Minister Rasul as reported in the Austrian "Kronen Zeitung": "We have lost the best brains in the country and we are eager to attract them back"

Kabul/Vienna, 16 February 2013 – Austrian Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger (People’s Party) discussed the initiation of negotiations for an agreement on the return of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan with his ministerial counterpart, Foreign Minister Salmai Rasul, as reported in the Austrian daily newspaper "Kronen Zeitung" (Sunday edition). Rasul was quoted as saying: "We have lost the best brains in the country and we are eager to attract them back." Spindelegger also met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

On Saturday Karzai called on all domestic military forces in the country to refuse "foreign air support under all circumstances". As a result of this Afghani ground forces must no longer request NATO air strikes in future. According to an AFP report Karzai said that he was satisfied that the foreign powers would withdraw their military forces by the end of 2014.

According to the "Kronen Zeitung" an "ISAF" general commented: "The biggest error would be to leave Afghanistan alone as happened after the Soviet withdrawal. What happened then was that the country was left to the throes of civil war. Much depends here on Pakistan, which is the withdrawal area of the Taliban. Will the Taliban return? They will be a force of disruption, but they will no longer be capable of taking power. Afghanistan will not collaborate with them." Commenting on the Taliban he said: "We must convince them that politics are not made with weapons, but are fought in the electoral ballot."

The newspaper quoted the "ISAF" spokesperson further as saying: "Armed conflicts are now only taking place outside of the urban areas, where a mere fifth of the population lives. Bomb attacks in the towns are carried out with the intention of creating a focus of public attention. They achieve no more than this. 84 percent of civilian fatalities are caused by the Taliban & co., eight percent by ISAF, eight percent are unexplained. The training programme for the (government) army is in progress. And by spring these forces will take over the responsibility for security in all of the provinces."

Jan Kubis, head of the UN mission in Kabul, was quoted by the Austrian newspaper "Die Presse" (Sunday edition) as defining how far the demands of the Taliban for a solution can go: "It is above all the Afghans themselves who must decide". "Pakistan plays an important role in this as to whether Afghanistan will finally return to peace", Rasul said according to the newspaper.

Austria intends to promote the rule of law in Afghanistan according to the Foreign Ministry. The United Nations "Law and Order Trust Fund" (LOFTA), will be supported with a donation of 18 million euros. Furthermore support is to be offered for women and their rights in Afghanistan.

"We currently have 200,000 students, and of these 38 percent are women, ten years ago there were only 8,000 students and none of them were women. Furthermore the pro capita income has risen from 185 to 659 dollars", the consultant to President Karzai, Dadfar Spanta said when briefing Austrian journalists according to a "Kurier" (Sunday edition) report. In the context of the security situation he admits that there are problems in 90 out of 460 districts, "but the government is in no way under threat".

According to a report in the "Presse" Spanta also said: "We will attempt to organise more acceptable elections in 2014".

Spindelegger’s two day stay was the first visit of an Austrian foreign minister to Afghanistan for over 50 years, the last visit was by Leopold Figl in the 1950s. The return of the Minister to Vienna was planned for today, Saturday.

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APA0341    2013-02-16/22:07