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Afghanistan: Battles Cause Concern At UN

New York, 1 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The attention of delegates in the United Nations General Assembly continues to focus today on Afghanistan, amidst mounting international concern over renewed fighting there and the harsh policies of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group that controls most of the country and is fighting to claim all of it.

The U.N. Security Council yesterday expressed grave concern about the intense battles in the north and called on all states to refrain from actions that would impede efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan.

The Council mentioned no countries by name in a statement to the press, but stressed the urgent need for a ceasefire between the Taliban army and the opposition -- mostly forces loyal to Afghanistan's former military commander Ahmed Shah Masood, as well as minority Shiite Muslims and ethnic Uzbeks.

The Taliban's Islamic militia says Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran are among those aiding its enemies, while anti-Taliban factions accuse Pakistan of helping the fundamentalists.

Representatives of more than 20 states plan today to attend a meeting of concerned governments in the U.N. to assess the situation.

Participants are expected to include neighboring states like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that bear the burden of refugees fleeing the fighting, and countries that contribute millions of dollars through the United Nations and European Union to humanitarian programs in Afghanistan.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov, as well as the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, have stressed their deep concerns over developments in Afghanistan in separate addresses to the General Assembly.

Rakhmonov warned yesterday that the unrest across the border could spill over and undermine "the fragile peace" in his country.

Tajikistan has endured four years of civil war that only ended in June when the government and opposition groups signed a peace settlement mediated by Russia and the U.N.

Rakhmonov said "it is in Tajikistan's vital interests that peace be established (in Afghanistan) ... also because it would help reduce a flow of arms and drugs across the Tajik-Afghan border," which he said aids the spread of terrorism and destabilizes the region.

Rakhmonov, along with Turkmenistan's foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov, called for an international conference on Afghanistan "with the participation of all its immediate neighbors and ... the powers vested with special international authority and capable of making a practical contribution towards settlement."

Today's U.N. meeting is expected to deal with security and humanitarian issues, following an incident earlier this week when the Taliban briefly detained European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Emma Bonino. She and her entourage were arrested at a women's hospital in Kabul for taking photographs -- a violation of the strict Islamic code the Taliban is enforcing.

Before leaving Kabul, Bonino said her experience was "an example of how people live here -- under a reign of terror."

The violent struggle for supremacy among the Afghan factions is writ large in death and destruction in Afghanistan and small in diplomatic protocol demarches in the United Nations.

A Taliban representative, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, has renewed a bid for Afghanistan's U.N. seat and protested that an address to the U.N. General Assembly today will be delivered by the representative of a rival faction.

Mujahid complained to reporters yesterday that "representation of Afghanistan has been by some personal representative of Mr. Rabbani, not the people of Afghanistan."

The speaker, listed as Dr. A. Abdullah, vice-minister for foreign affairs and special envoy of the president, represents the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is believed to be in exile in Pakistan. He fled Kabul a year ago when Taliban forces captured the capital.

Because of factional squabbling over the right to represent Afghanistan in the United States, the U.S. State Department in August temporarily closed Afghanistan's embassy in Washington.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said at the time that the U.S. does not recognize Taliban claims to sole representation of Afghanistan and does not believe there is an effective government in the country.

But he stressed that the suspension does not mean a break in diplomatic relations. Rubin said the U.S. will continue to have contact with the various factions and hopes eventually to see a broadly representative government in power in Kabul.