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Afghanistan: Lebed Says Taliban Victory Poses A Threat

Moscow, 1 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian National Security chief Aleksandr Lebed said today that the victory of the Taliban Islamic militia in Afghanistan poses a threat to Central Asia and Russia.

Interfax quotes Lebed as saying that if the Taliban breaks through a Russian border guard now patrolling the Tajik-Afghan frontier, "the road to the plains to the north would be open." Lebed said that the Taliban wants to annex parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin today proposed a summit of leaders from former Soviet republics to discuss developments in Afghanistan. There are no reports on when or where the summit might take place.

Russia has about 25,000 troops stationed in Tajikistan to help guard the border against drug and weapons smugglers, and against armed incursions by Afghan-based Islamic fundamentalists. During the weekend, shortly after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, about 250 Tajik Islamic opposition fighters broke across the border from Afghanistan into Tajikistan.

Itar-Tass quotes the head of the Russian forces in Tajikistan as saying that his troops would intervene if tensions on the border continue to escalate.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, forces of the Taliban Islamic militia and Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum have squared off against each other at the strategic Salang tunnel, say correspondents. The tunnel links Kabul to northern Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics beyond.

Reports are conflicting about developments today at the Salang Tunnel north of Kabul. But there have been no reports of any military engagements between Dostum's forces and the Taliban.

Reuters quotes a spokesman for Dostum as saying that the ethnic Uzbek warlord's troops occupied the tunnel during the weekend when the army of deposed Afghan President Burnahuddin Rabbani abandoned positions there.

The Taliban moved toward the southern end of the tunnel yesterday after seizing the town of Jabal-us-Siraj from Rabbani's forces.

The Associated Press reports that Dostum and the Taliban appeared ready to fight, but added that both sides say they might negotiate.

The Afghan Islamic Press reports that Dostum's forces have withdrawn from the southern side of the tunnel facing the Taliban. That agency says Dostum's soldiers are now positioned at the tunnel's northern end. There is no independent confirmation of the report.

Meanwhile, Agence France Presse quotes Taliban militia leaders in Kabul today as saying that they have "no problem" with Dostum, and that an alleged ultimatum ordering Dustom's forces to clear the way was a forgery.