Top UN official in Afghanistan walks out over election fraud

Personal split highlights divisions in international community, as wide-spread recounts are announce

A top official on the UN mission in Afghanistan has walked out over a disagreement on the reaction to vote-rigging in the presidential elections.

Peter Galbraith, the top American official in the UN mission, had pushed for a stronger reaction to the vote-rigging than that favoured by Kai Eide, the Norwegian head of the mission, who is hesitant to give the impression that foreigners were dictating the process.

Evidence of widespread fraud in the Afghan elections means that ballots from about a tenth of the country's polling stations are to be recounted, and another round of voting may be necessary.

The personal split reflects wide-ranging differences of opinion over how to deal with overwhelming evidence of government fraud among nations involved in the war.

Following a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels, the German minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We will press for an investigation of all fraud allegations. It is important that the elected president is recognised and respected by the entire population of Afghanistan."

Karzai is currently leading with 54 per cent of the vote. But today the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission meant that votes from many polling stations would have to be recounted, a process which could take weeks. This could bring Karzai's total to fewer than 50 per cent, which would lead to a presidential run-off.

Nato officials say they are confident that a resolution will be found, but Galbraith's departure has underlined disagreements and anxiety within the international community in Kabul.

Aleem Siddique, the UN spokesman in Afghanistan, said that Galbraith and Eide were still in close touch and would meet up at the end of the month. "Peter Galbraith remains an integral part of the UN mission leadership, both Mr Galbraith and Mr Eide are committed to supporting a credible election outcome.

"In any hotly contested election there are bound to de differences of opinion. However, on the issue of these elections, both the UN envoy and his deputy are united in ensuring a credible outcome for Afghan's voters."