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Afghanistan: Factions Begin U.N.-Sponsored Peace Talks

Islamabad, 13 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - For the first time since the Taliban Islamic militia took control of Kabul four months ago, the warring Afghan factions met today for United Nations sponsored peace talks.

U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan Norbert Holl told a news conference that the talks were held in a "relaxed atmosphere" and would continue tomorrow. Noll however cautioned against high hopes and said the meeting in Islamabad was a working-group meeting to be followed eventually by political-level talks. Holl said also the meeting had no formal agenda and did not give details whether the factions had reached agreement on a ceasefire or the exchange of prisoners.

Each of the Afghan factions has three representatives at the Islamabad meeting. The Taliban delegation is led by a close aide to the movement's chief Mulla Mohammed Omar. The anti-Taliban coalition has representatives for each of its two leaders -- General Rashid Dostum and former military chief Ahmed Shah Massood, and a representative for a small Shiite party that is part of the coalition.

The ultimate goal of the talks is to end the bitter four-year old Afghan conflict that has killed more than 35,000 people.