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Supporters Of Former Afghan Governor Sack UN Offices

12 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Troops from the Afghan National Army were deployed across much of Herat on Sunday in an attempt to quell tensions over the sacking of provincial Governor Ismail Khan.

RFE/RL correspondent Basir Begzad reported that soldiers from both the Afghan National Army and the United States could be seen throughout the western Afghan city on Sunday afternoon.

"Control of the city appears to be in the hands of the Afghan National Army right now," Begzad reported. "They control the major streets within the city and the key intersections. Some U.S. soldiers also are out patrolling the streets. U.S. military aircraft can be seen flying over parts of the city from time to time. So those appear to be the dominant military forces in the city at the moment. These forces also have been deployed around the house of Ismail Khan."

Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Hilaluddin Hilal told RFE/RL today that troops near Khan's home are not engaged in a siege operation.

The deployments follow several acts of violence committed by crowds of Khan's supporters since Afghan interim administration Chairman Hamid Karzai announced on 11 September that he had sacked Khan from the post of Herat governor.

A U.S. military spokesman says two American soldiers had to be rescued by the Afghan National Army overnight when their Humvee patrol vehicle broke down in the city and an angry crowd of stone throwers attacked them.

Later on Sunday morning, a Reuters correspondent saw several hundred backers of Khan shouting "Death to Karzai" and "Death to America" before setting two UN compounds on fire. The adjacent compounds included the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Development Program.

As the smoke and flames rose from the buildings, some protesters could be seen looting UN property while others chanted: "We want Ismail Khan."

UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said about 10 UN staff members were in the compound when the crowd broke in and set fire to at least one UN vehicle. He said there were no immediate reports of injuries among the UN staff.

Meanwhile, bursts of shooting from small caliber guns could be heard in the city as several hundred soldiers from the Afghan National Army and the United States attempted to restore order. Reuters quotes a doctor at a hospital in Herat as saying that at least seven of the protesters were killed in clashes with the Afghan authorities. That report has not been independently confirmed.

Afghan Interior Ministry adviser Shah Mahmood Miakhel said on Sunday that the situation was, in his words, "nothing serious." Miakhel said people have the right to show their anger. But he said the acts of violence are unacceptable. Miakhel also said the reason Khan had been replaced was to reduce tensions.

The silver-bearded Khan has said that he accepts his replacement -- Afghanistan's former Ambassador toUkraine Sayed Mohammad Khairkha. But Khan has turned down an offer from Karzai to serve as the central government's minister of industry and mines.

Relations between the deposed Herat governor and Karzai have soured since March when Civil Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadiq -- Khan's son -- was killed in a clash with a rival militia faction that was nominally under the control of the Afghan Defense Ministry.

Herat also was the scene of bitter fighting last month between Ismail Khan's private militia and fighters loyal to his long-time rival, Commander Amanullah Khan. Western diplomats say those clashes have eroded Ismail Khan's power base.