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Tajikistan: Sergeyev Meets With Afghan Commander

Dushanbe, 26 October 2000 (RFE/RL) - Afghan opposition commander Ahmed Shah Masood met Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev today in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. ITAR-TASS says the meeting was held as Afghanistan's ruling Taliban continued a major offensive against opposition forces loyal to ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani. There has been an upsurge in fighting in northeastern Afghanistan in recent months, with the Taliban capturing Masood's key base of Taloqan, capital of Takhar province.

The hardline Islamist militia controls more than 90 percent of Afghanistan. Russia, which has close links with the Afghan opposition, threatened in May to launch air strikes against the Taliban, accusing it of training Chechen rebels fighting Russian rule in Chechnya.

But it then ruled out dispatching any ground troops into Afghanistan. The IMF has approved in principle a $51 million loan to Tajikistan.

Officials said this had taken place despite what was described as "the difficult external environment," referring to Tajikistan's struggles to emerge from a civil war and to solve problems connected with the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi have also held talks in Dushanbe on the conflict in Afghanistan.

Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told journalists the Tajik and Iranian governments remain seriously concerned over the ongoing fighting between the Taliban militia and the opposition Northern Alliance. Intense fighting between the two sides was reported yesterday near the Tajik border as Taliban fighters continued their campaign to take control of the northeastern part of the country.

Kharazi is quoted as saying that years of war in Afghanistan have proven that there can be no military solution. He said the only solution is negotiations to form a coalition government. Kharazi said he had briefed Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov on Iran's and Russia's joint plans to ensure peace and stability in the region. No details were given.