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Monday, 18 March 2013

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Afghan clerics warn US to heed Karzai demands

AFGHANISTA: Afghanistan's leading religious body on Saturday warned the presence of US troops in the country would soon be treated as an “occupation” unless the United States hands over detainees.

The fate of prisoners held in Bagram jail has been one cause of a sharp deterioration in US-Afghan ties, with President Hamid Karzai repeatedly pushing to be given full control of the facility north of Kabul.

“If the Americans do not act on their promises (to hand over Bagram)... then that means occupation and they might like to see the reaction to that,” the influential National Ulema Council said in a statement.

The government-funded council, which is the highest Islamic authority in Afghanistan, added that a series of recent anti-US remarks by Karzai were “the true voice of the Muslim people of Afghanistan”.

Karzai has ordered US special forces out of the key province of Wardak, banned international troops from university campuses over alleged harassment and stopped the Afghan military calling in US airstrikes.

He also triggered outrage by accusing the US of acting in concert with Taliban insurgents to justify the presence of foreign troops.

The hand-over of the Bagram jail has been repeatedly delayed as Afghan and US officials clash over whether the suspected militants will continue to be held or released.

Late Saturday, Karzai's office said the transfer of prisoners “must take place” in one week's time after a further postponement was agreed in a telephone call with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

US General Joseph Dunford, the commander of NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, has said that some of the detainees would pose “real threats” if they returned to the battlefield.

He also warned that coalition troops face increased attacks from militants and rogue Afghan forces due to Karzai's anti-US rhetoric.

In one sign of heightened tensions, hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday marched to the parliament complex in Kabul demanding the US special forces withdraw from Wardak after allegations of abuse.

Karzai ordered elite US units to pull out after he alleged Afghan militia working with them had tortured and murdered civilians, but the US military say they are still negotiating the province's security hand-over. Afghan army and police are taking on responsibility for battling the Taliban insurgency as most of the 100,000 NATO-led troops prepare to exit by the end of next year. Karzai is due to step down at elections next year, 13 years after he came to power with US backing when the hardline Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. One member of the NATO force died on Saturday in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, a spokesman said. No insurgent activity was reported in the area.

AFP

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