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AFGHANISTAN

Swede awarded UN top job in Afghanistan

Long-serving Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura has been appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon as his new envoy to Afghanistan.

Shortly before departing for a crucial London conference on the war-wracked country’s future, Ban told reporters that de Mistura, a 63-year-old veteran UN

troubleshooter, would take up his new post on March 1st. De Mistura succeeds Kai Eide of Norway, who has been criticized over his handling of Afghanistan’s fraud-marred election in August.

Ban said the Swede “brings an enormous wealth of experience and skills” to the post, but also took care to praise Eide “for his leadership of UNAMA (the UN mission in Afghanistan) during a very difficult period.”

De Mistura has been deputy executive director for external relations of the

Rome-based World Food Program since last July, when he stepped down as UN special envoy to Iraq after less than two years in the post.

For nearly four decades, he has served the world body in conflict-ridden hot spots such as Somalia, the Middle East, the Balkans and Nepal.

Ban also noted that Thursday’s London conference on Afghanistan “comes at a critical moment.”

“The Afghan people want a larger say in their future especially in terms of development and national ownership is essential,” he said. “At the same time, Afghans need to know that the international community will support them over the long term in building their institutions of government.”

He stressed the need for “a more balanced approach” by the international community, giving as much importance to meeting the needs of Afghan civilians in terms of development as to the need to combat the Taliban insurgency.

The London conference, which brings together some 70 countries and organizations, is expected to agree that Afghanistan must assume responsibility for its own security as rapidly as possible, according to the organizers.

This will require the training of more Afghan police and soldiers to take over from the international forces, which number about 110,000 troops due to swell to 150,000 this year.

Karzai is expected to ask the conference to fund a $500 million programme to reintegrate Taliban fighters by offering them jobs and security to stop fighting, a move that could prelude peace talks.

The Islamist movement has repeatedly rebuffed negotiations with Karzai and his Western backers, and in an emailed statement Wednesday reiterated a call for all foreign troops to leave the country.

The only solution to the conflict was for all “invading forces” to leave immediately, the statement said.

On Tuesday, Karzai won regional support in Istanbul for his efforts to cajole Islamist insurgents to lay down their arms, as Germany offered more troops and cash for the ravaged nation.

After talks with his Turkish and Pakistani peers, as well as officials from countries such as China, Iran and Russia, Karzai said moderate Taliban fighters should be brought back into the fold.

In a joint statement after the meeting in Istanbul, the participants declared that they “support the Afghan national process of reconciliation and reintegration… in a way that is Afghan-led and -driven.”

Meanwhile Ban also talked about his attendance at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa this weekend.

He said he would discuss with African leaders three key issues:

*development, particularly the need to help African countries meet the poverty-reduction Millenium Development Goals

*climate change and its “potentially devastating impact on Africa, as well as the important role African leaders can play in supporting the December Copenhagen accord

*regional conflicts and upcoming elections

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AFGHANISTAN

Swedish student to face trial after anti-deportation protest that stopped flight

The Swedish student who livestreamed her onboard protest against the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker will go on trial on Monday.

Swedish student to face trial after anti-deportation protest that stopped flight
Elin Ersson. File photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Elin Ersson will appear at Gothenburg District Court, charged with violating Sweden’s Aviation Act.

Ersson protested in July last year against the Swedish government's policy of deporting some rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan by boarding an Istanbul-bound flight that carried an Afghan man who was to be returned home after being denied asylum.

With a ticket for the flight that was purchased by the activist group 'Sittstrejken i Göteborg', the activist boarded the aircraft and then refused to sit down until the Afghan man was let off. Flights are not allowed to take off until all passengers are safely in their seats.

Ersson livestreamed her protest on Facebook, where it was viewed over five million times.

Eventually, Ersson was told that the man would be let off the plane and she was also removed by airport security.

According to the prosecutor in the trial, which will take place Monday, Ersson acknowledges her actions in the incident but said her objections were based on her morals and argues that she did not act illegally as the plane was not in the air at the time of her protest.

“I believe that she is guilty of a crime which I can prove and which she will not admit. The court will therefore determine this,” prosecutor James von Reis told TT when charges were brought against the student.

In an interview with the news agency in July last year, Ersson was asked how she sees the view that her actions can be considered criminal.

“The key issue for me is that the man who was to be deported is human and deserves to live. In Sweden we do not have the death penalty, but deportation to a country which is at war can mean death,” she said.

The trial is expected to be completed within one day and Ersson’s defence has sent supplementary evidence to the court.

That consists of a legal statement by Dennis Martinsson, a lawyer in criminal law at Stockholm University. In the 13-page statement, Martinsson argues that the Aviation Act is phrased in a way which makes it questionable whether it is applicable to what Ersson did.

According to the legal expert, the relevant paragraph only applies to requests made by the aircraft’s commanding officer. Investigation of the incident found that Ersson was instructed to take her seat by “cabin crew on board”.

Further, the law states that criminal liability applies to passengers who do not comply with instructions “during a flight”, a description which Martinsson argues cannot be applied to an aircraft on the ground waiting to depart.

There is no precedent in interpretation of the law, he also writes according to TT’s summary.

The extent to which those arguments will affect the outcome of Monday’s case remains to be seen.

The penalty for violation of the Aviation Act is a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

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