updated 9/12/2005 10:49:58 AM ET 2005-09-12T14:49:58

Afghan election officials said Monday they disqualified 21 candidates in next weekend’s historic legislative elections for allegedly having links with armed militias.

There have been concerns ahead of the Sept. 18 polls that many of the warlords responsible for much of the bloodshed in Afghanistan during the past 25 years may try to win seats in the legislature without first disarming and demobilizing their militias.

Grant Kippen, chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission, said evidence presented to the body showed that the 21 still had ties to militias, which is forbidden under the country’s electoral law.

The move sparked an immediate denial — and threat — from one of the candidates, Qumandan Didar, an independent in Kabul.

“My supporters will protest and will sabotage the election process,” he told The Associated Press. “I have no weapons. I have completely disarmed and have no links to armed groups. But I still have thousands of supporters.”

Didar was a militia commander during the civil war in the early 1990s but is believed to have fled to neighboring Pakistan when the Taliban took control of much of the country in the second half of the decade.

None of the 21 candidates named by the commission are known to have close ties to President Hamid Karzai.

Criticism over moves
Some international observers have criticized the process used to disqualify candidates. The commission relied on evidence provided by a government-backed disarmament agency, raising fears that those in power may exploit the agency to have their rivals removed from the election race.

Kippen said seven other candidates have been disqualified for holding official government posts, which also is barred by law.

Monday’s announcement came two months after an initial group of 17 candidates — including 11 alleged warlords — was removed from the ballot.

Nearly 2,800 people are running for parliament, while some 3,000 others are competing for 34 provincial assemblies.

Next week’s election, coming after last fall’s presidential ballot, is the next key step toward democracy for Afghanistan. Insurgents loyal to the ousted Taliban regime have stepped up activities the past six months seeking to wreck the vote, and more than 1,200 people have died in the fighting.

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