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Foreign Ministry Denies Russian Technicians in Afghanistan

Prague, Feb. 13 (RFE/RL) - Western reports say Russian military technicians have returned to Afghanistan - seven years after the Soviet army withdrew from the country - to support the besieged government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. But Russia's Foreign Ministry is denying the reports.

Analysts say Russia and others fear a rise to power of the Islamic Taleban militia, which has besieged Kabul for months.

The reports cite diplomatic sources in Pakistan and Moscow, and intelligence sources in the U.S. as saying Russian and Indian military technicians are working to upgrade Bagram Airport near Kabul. Further, they say that several Russian transport planes arrive daily at the airport, carrying arms, ammunition and fuel to the Kabul government.

The reports also say Russian technicians are building an airport at Taloqan, near the border with Tajikistan. Contacted by our Moscow correspondent, Russia's Foreign Ministry denied the reports today.

The reports say the Taloqan site would serve as a base for ethnic Tajiks, such as President Rabbani and his allied military leader Ahmed Shah Masood, if they are driven from Kabul. Arms and other supplies for government forces are reported arriving from Tajikistan, Russia, and Ukraine. A shipment of anti-tank grenades destined for Afghanistan from Bulgaria was intercepted in Kazakhstan.

Russia's new Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov last month held talks in Dushanbe and Tashkent on developments in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Primakov returns this month to the region he has called the strategic "underbelly" of Russia.

The reports say decisive fighting for control of Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is expected as snow melts.