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Afghanistan: U.S. Urging Factions To End Fighting

Washington, 28 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States has appealed to the various groups in Afghnistan to end hostilities and come together to form a broad-based representative government.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Dinger said Tuesday that the United States urges an immediate end to the fighting and calls on all Afghan parties "to avoid violence, repression or reprisals," following the advance of Taliban fundamentalist forces and the ouster of northern region commander Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Dostum was reported to have fled to Turkey at the weekend after the Taliban gained control over the central town of Mazar-e-Sharif.

But even as Dinger was urging an end to the fighting, it erupted with renewed intensity Tuesday in Mazar-e-Sharif and other areas. Dinger noted that although the Taliban control most of the country, two other factions remain opposed to it and control of the north is not firmly established.

He said the United States is watching the situation closely, adding that so far there has been no major refugee movement out of the north.

That possibility would be a destabilizing factor threatening other countries in the region, including neighboring Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. But U.S. officials say there is no sign of an exodus.

Dinger's statements suggest the United States is following a multi-pronged policy to help stabilize the region -- support efforts to end the fighting and lessen the involvement of neighboring powers, including Russia, Pakistan, India and Iran; get a representational government in place in Afghanistan and moderate extremist Islamic domestic policies that could raise tensions and renew factional fighting.

A State Department official told RFE/RL the United States has appealed to outside powers to stop giving support to chosen Afghan groups. "It only keeps the fighting going," he said.

The official said the United States stopped selective contacts and military aid years ago. "Since 1991, we have given no support, military or otherwise to any Afghan group," he said, adding that the United States has called on other governments to do the same.

U.S. officials say the first imperative is to end the fighting -- perhaps with the aid of international mediators. Dinger expressed U.S. support for the United Nations, saying "the U.N. and its special representative (for Afghanistan) are very well placed to assist in the process."

The United States has had no full diplomatic representation since 1979, when the U.S. ambassador in Kabul -- Adolph Dubs -- was kidnapped and killed at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Lower level U.S. diplomats remained at the Kabul embassy for another ten years but left in 1989 when Soviet forces withdrew and factional fighting broke out. The U.S. embassy has been closed since and Dinger said there are no immediate plans to open it.

Asked whether the United States plans to recognize a Taliban government, Dinger said that "as a general policy, the United States recognizes states, not governments," and does not at this time recognize a Taliban government of Afghanistan.

He said the U.S. talks with Taliban representatives, as it does with other Afghan factions.

U.S. officials were in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan last week for a meeting with the Taliban. Dinger said neither side asked for an exchange of ambassadors.

"We have no plans at this point to send an ambassador," he said. The Taliban have not asked to take control of the Afghan embassy in Washington.

That embassy is still staffed by representatives of former Afghan president Burhannudin Rabbani who headed an interim Afghan government in 1992 that was trying to form a Shura, or broad-based, representational government, the United States says should be formed now.

Dinger said the United States wants to see "a broadly representative government that represents the rights of all Afghanistans."

He said once there is peace in the country and democratic rule, the international community will come to Afghanistan's aid to assist in recovery and reconstruction after nearly 20 years of warfare.

But Dinger said the severe restrictions imposed by the Taliban on women and girls are unacceptable measured by international standards.

"The Taliban should see as being in its interest to adopt policies that are going to encourage international engagement ... and easing restrictions on the activities of women and girls could certainly be one of those steps," he said.