Image: A U.S. solider of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
Rafiq Maqbool  /  AP
A U.S. solider of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division looks through a scope on his weapon during a search operation to hunt members of Taliban in Nerkh district of Wardak province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 3.
updated 5/3/2009 3:20:15 PM ET 2009-05-03T19:20:15

Ballots of Afghan women in conservative districts are vulnerable to fraud in August's presidential election, the country's top human rights official said Sunday.

The movements of women are severely restricted by tradition in conservative parts of Afghanistan, where it is rare for women to travel outside their villages or even their family compounds. There, male relatives often register the women as voters.

"Two issues are of concern for me. First is that the right of the woman to cast her vote will not be given to her, and the second is that it's possible that there will be serious fraud in the election by this method," Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told a news conference.

Giving an example, Samar said that during the last six months of voter registration, 72 percent of those signing up in Logar — a province south of Kabul — were women. She said it was not "logically acceptable" that so many registrants were female.

High registration of women
She said officials also saw unexpectedly high registration of women in Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces.

Under Afghan law, only the person on a registration card may vote. But Samar said that in the country's 2004 presidential election there were reports of one person casting multiple votes on behalf of other family members.

The top U.N. representative in the country, Kai Eidi, who spoke alongside Samar, said there was "no doubt that there are irregularities" stemming from the registration process, but that no one knows how significant they are.

He called for transparent and credible elections "so the result reflects the will of the Afghan people."

The two-week period for presidential candidates to register ends May 8. So far no candidates have registered who could seriously challenge President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking a new five-year term.

One potential contender, Nangarhar province Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai, pulled out Saturday.

Afghanistan's fragile democracy is also endangered by daily violence, which threatens to overshadow the Aug. 20 election, the second presidential vote since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

Bomb on a bicycle explodes
On Sunday, a bomb on a bicycle exploded in a busy market in Gereshk district of southern Helmand province, killing four. Doud Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial governor, said a 10-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl were among the dead.

Homemade bombs are typically aimed at Afghan officials or international troops, but the majority of victims are Afghan civilians. The U.S. military says 1,800 Afghans were killed or wounded in bomb attacks last year.

Separately, an Italian military spokesman said an Italian patrol in the western province of Herat fired on a car that sped toward their convoy, killing a 13-year-old girl and wounding three other people.

Maj. Marco Amoriello told Sky TG24 television the vehicle ignored signals from the troops to slow down so they opened fire. Amoriello said the car involved was a white Toyota Corolla, which are commonly used for suicide bombings.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition reported two days of fighting in a rugged region of eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan in which American fighter aircraft and U.S. and Afghan ground forces killed 19 suspected militants.

Counterattacks kill 19 militants
The fighting began when militants attacked an Afghan combat outpost and killed three American soldiers, two from Latvia and four Afghan solders, deaths the military reported on Friday. The Afghan Defense Ministry said hundreds of militants had massed in Kunar.

In response, Afghan and coalition forces carried out counterattacks that killed 19 militants, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

The U.S. coalition said after the militant attack that a U.S.-Afghan force returned fire and called for fighter aircraft, killing seven suspected militants. Other militants repositioned on a ridge, and fighter aircraft killed 12 more, the coalition said in a statement late Saturday.

Violence is expected to rise in the coming months. President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to join the 38,000 already in Afghanistan.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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