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Taliban fighters surrender weapons



QALAT, Afghanistan (CNN) -- In dribs and drabs, Afghan Taliban fighters in Zabul Province have begun turning in their weapons, as part of a disarmament deal brokered by an envoy of former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah.

The issue of security in this country awash in weapons is a pressing one. Between 100 and 150 weapons -- most of them made in Russia or China -- were handed over in two towns.

At least three U.S.-made Stinger surface-to-air missiles were part of the arsenal. Machine guns from a variety of eras, mortars, anti-tank, anti-aircraft missiles and ammunition were also turned in.

One Stinger missile box was dated 1986, when the U.S. government supplied Afghan mujahedeen with hundreds of the missiles in their fight against Soviet occupation.

Sunday's collection marked the beginning of a country-wide disarmament being coordinated by Sayed Ismael Gailani, a former mujahedeen commander and the envoy of the country's former king.

Gailani predicted as many as 12,000 weapons will be collected, but it was not clear by when.

Afghan Taliban fighters who turned in their weapons were free to return to their villages.

First Cabinet meeting

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CNN's John Vause reports on the transfer of authority to Hamid Karzai, chairman of Afghanistan's interim government (December 24)

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Security was the prime topic in Kabul, as the new interim Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai, held its first Cabinet meeting.

But discord grew over the U.S. attack on a convoy Friday night in eastern Afghanistan, which killed 50 to 60 people.

The Pentagon said the convoy was carrying al Qaeda or Taliban leaders, and a senior Pentagon official said it "was a valid target," despite claims by a member of Afghanistan's interim government that the bombing killed delegates traveling to Kabul for the new government's installation.

The streets of Kabul bustled with activity as the new government was taking charge, with many returning to work for the first time in a week.

There was optimism on the streets and in the voices of the new leaders, Karzai characterizing the first working session as "absolutely perfect."

Rally

Another first in years was a small, pro-government march to the United Nations compound in the capital.

Most of participants were middle-class professionals and intellectuals who chanted support for the peace process and the new government.

Highly significant was the presence of a few women in the group, a sight forbidden under the Taliban regime.

British marines stood guard as the cabinet convened and have been seen every day since their arrival last week.

Eighty British marines are in the Kabul area, and make up the first contingent of a multi-national stabilization force, whose composition is being debated.

The number of troops will increase to 200 by week's end, as support staff begin to arrive.

The first week in January will see at least 600 British headquarters staff begin arriving, to be followed in the next 20 to 30 days by peacekeepers from various other nations.

A final number has not been decided, but 3,000 to 6,000 are expected ultimately.

-- CNN Correspondent Amanda Kibel and CNN Producer Claire Nichols contributed to this report



 
 
 
 


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