• Kyodo

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Japan will host an international conference of Group of Eight nations and Afghan leaders in mid-February to help strife-torn Afghanistan promote security in outlying areas, Afghan government and diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

The sources said the Japanese government has asked the Afghan government if President Hamid Karzai can travel to Tokyo for the demobilization conference.

The meeting is expected to focus on a Japanese proposal to set up a demobilization registration agency in Afghanistan to demobilize soldiers controlled by Afghan warlords and help them return to civilian life.

Japan, the United Nations and Afghan leaders have been discussing the plan since May, when Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi proposed the idea to Karzai during a visit to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s recovery efforts, particularly in the area of domestic security, have been frustrated by regional warlords, who still retain powerful influence outside Kabul.

Hoping to get the demobilization project on track, Japan will obtain financial pledges from fellow G8 nations Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.

Japan is ready to provide several million dollars to finance the demobilization project, which is expected to run several years.

The proposed agency envisions providing job training and other incentives to help demobilize the warlords’ soldiers, whose numbers are estimated at tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

Japan’s international cooperation has so far mainly consisted of humanitarian aid and infrastructure projects. But the latest move appears to signal a departure from its traditional pattern of international cooperation to a more active engagement in the policymaking process.

The sources said that with a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq looming, Japan has taken a cautious approach organizing the Afghan demobilization conference out of concern that a war could destabilize Afghan politics and jeopardize Karzai’s trip to Japan.

Two decades of civil war prior to the collapse of the Taliban government in December 2001 have left warlords in control of many provinces.

Clashes between the warlords are reported sporadically in the northern and western parts of the country and continue to pose a threat to public security.

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