NATO defence ministers turn to Afghan civilian problems

Other News Materials 8 February 2008 11:45 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - NATO defence ministers turned the spotlight on civilian issues in Afghanistan on Friday during the second day of talks in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

"When it comes to Afghanistan, cautious optimism is justified. But optimism is not enough: it needs concrete action to become reality," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

"Governance must visibly improve so that the Afghan people have trust in their leaders," he said.

On Thursday, the 26 ministers discussed military issues in Afghanistan, with the lack of combat troops, helicopters and spy aircraft the main theme.

On Friday they turned their attention to the issue of civil governance and reconstruction in the country - activities in which NATO ministers insist the alliance can only play a supporting role.

The meeting was set to bring together NATO members, non-NATO contributors to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank.

"NATO will play its part but NATO and ISAF are only part of the answer. Our goal will be to see how all the countries and organizations represented here today can step up our efforts and our cooperation," Scheffer said.

As well as NATO's mission in Afghanistan, which is the alliance's largest ever operation, the ministers were set to discuss new security threats such as computer attacks - known as "cyber-warfare" - and energy cut-offs.

They were also scheduled to meet with Russia's defence minister, having met Ukraine's minister on Thursday - the same day on which Russian gas monopolist Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine for the third time over a pricing dispute.