updated 2/18/2004 2:06:03 PM ET 2004-02-18T19:06:03

The United Nations announced a plan Wednesday to register millions of people for June elections that officials worry could be delayed by violence in Afghanistan’s turbulent provinces.

Jean Arnault, the top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, said the world body would do all it could to stick to the June deadline but repeated warnings that the timeframe, mandated in the country’s new constitution, could be delayed.

“I think it would be frankly silly to say the election will take place on this day,” Arnault said.

So far, only about 900,000 of Afghanistan’s 10.5 million eligible voters have registered, all of them in Kabul and seven other major cities. Violence has crippled the process elsewhere.

Arnault said the United Nations planned to set up 4,200 stations across the country to register most eligible voters during May.

Extra security needed
But he said international forces including NATO were needed to help Afghan police provide security against possible attacks from sympathizers of the former ruling Taliban regime. The United Nations has warned that the June poll is unrealistic without vastly improved security.

“What concerns us now is the availability of domestic and international forces on a scale large enough to cover the 4,200 polling stations around the country,” Arnault told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

“We expect international forces will step up to the plate.”

Arnault noted that a two-month delay in convening the grand council that endorsed Afghanistan’s constitution was not seen as a “betrayal” of the process toward democracy.

“What we are all committed to do is make every effort as the constitution prescribed so that they can take place within a certain timeframe,” Arnault said.

Successful elections would be a landmark for Afghanistan after a quarter-century of conflict and no peaceful transfers of power.

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