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Australia, Netherlands to share Afghan missions

Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Apr 4 (Reuters) Australia said today it would open its first embassy in Kabul in a building shared with the Netherlands as troops from both countries prepare to deploy in Afghanistan's volatile south.

''We look forward very, very much to working with our Dutch friends,'' Australian Prime Minister John Howard told a joint news conference with Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende.

''The contact between the military of our respective countries has already been very close and I am sure it will be a very warm and effective relationship,'' he said.

Canberra announced in February that it would almost double its troop numbers in Afghanistan by adding a 200-member security and reconstruction team. The Netherlands plan to send up to 1,400 troops to Afghanistan for expanded NATO peacekeeping in June.

Violence in Afghanistan's south and east has intensified in recent months, with waves of raids and bombings killing dozens.

Dutch troops will be joining NATO forces as they manage all international peacekeeping forces, allowing the United States to withdraw some forces from the area, which is the power base of the former ruling Taliban.

The Dutch have been reluctant to take on risky military engagements since the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

Balkenende said Dutch forces were looking forward to working with their Australian partners.

''It is important that if we talk about international solidarity, about prospects for the population of Afghanistan, it is important that we are active also in that country,'' he said.

Australia sent 1,550 troops to Afghanistan in 2001, including special forces, to join the US-led strikes that toppled the Taliban for shielding al Qaeda after September 11.

About 300 Australian troops remain, with the latest deployment to begin in July.


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