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Afghanistan: Taliban, Opposition Continue Battle For Mazar-i-Sharif

Kabul, 11 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Afghanistan's Taliban militia and rival opposition fighters battled for a third straight day today for control of the northern opposition stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Reports indicate the frontline is close to the city's airport with fierce artillery and infantry clashes. The Taliban say they still control the airport and some nearby hills. Some shooting also has been reported inside the city itself but reports the Taliban had actually penetrated the opposition stronghold yesterday were not confirmed.

Taliban warplanes also bombed opposition positions and all roads out of the city were closed.

Armed men took advantage of the chaos in the city to ransack aid agencies' offices, stealing equipment, cars and even chairs. At least eight vehicles were stolen overnight. Most aid workers have not been harmed. But Iran's Foreign Ministry today said that an armed group had kidnapped five Iranian aid workers and two diplomats as they returned to the city. A ministry spokesman, Mahmoud Mohammadi, called for their unconditional release.

Fighting is also reported today in Kunduz, a province east of Mazar-i-Sharif held by the Taliban. The Taliban use the Kunduz airport to supply their forces fighting near the city.

The United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, Norbert Holl, today renewed an appeal for an immediate ceasefire and for the warring Afghan factions to open serious negotiations on ending the fighting. Speaking in Islamabad, in neighbouring Pakistan, Holl warned that the hostilities pose a threat to Afghanistan's territorial unity and are splitting the Afghan people along ethnic, religious and regional lines.