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Factional Fighting Breaks Out After Afghan Minister's Death

Kabul, 22 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan militia fighters loyal to Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan have seized the barracks of a rival militia faction that is blamed for the killing yesterday of Khan's son.

The overnight battle between Khan's forces and militia commanded by General Zahir Nayebzada was the worst factional fighting in Afghanistan in two years. Up to 100 people -- many of them militia fighters from the two factions -- reportedly have been killed.

Haji Gul Agha, the secretary for General Nayebzada, told RFE/RL today that the general has disappeared and is feared to have been killed by Khan's forces when the barracks were overrun early today.

Khan's spokesman, General Gullam Mohammed Masoon, told RFE/RL today that General Nayebzada has escaped.

The battle began after Khan's son, Afghan Civil Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadiq, was killed by an attack with a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

Khan's spokesman said Sadiq was ambushed by General Nayebzada's militia fighters while traveling in the province. But the besieged General Nayebzada told RFE/RL by telephone late last night that Sadiq was killed in a confrontation at the barracks. Nayebzada said Sadiq was trying to strip him of his command.

General Nayebzada's forces claim loyalty to the central government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai.

Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali are both traveling to Herat today to investigate Sadiq's death and the circumstances around the battle.