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Afghanistan/Iran: Pressure Mounts To Avenge Diplomats

By Bruce Pannier/Iskander Aliev

Prague, 11 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Iran is preparing a move against the Taliban to avenge the murder of its diplomats in the northern Afgan town of Mazir-e-Sharif. Or so it seems.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is currently chairing the top advisory body to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, said today in sermon at Teheran University that Iran "will not let go easily." Rafsanjani vowed revenge, saying that "we will take action in time."

Taliban yesterday admitted that nine of the eleven Iranian diplomats who disappeared following the Taliban seizure of Mazar-i-Sharif in early August were dead. Taliban said that they had been killed by "renegade" fighters.

The Iranian foreign ministry today announced that two diplomats had managed to escape but stopped short of providing details.

These developments followed the announcement by Iran's joint chiefs of staff that another military maneuvers will be held along the border with Afghanistan with regular troops joining the revolutionary guard. The guard recently staged the "Ashura-3" exercise in which 70,000 troops took part.

The Iranian military has not said how many troops will be added to the 70,000 already stationed along the border, or when the maneuvers will start. It said, however, that the exercise would run the entire distance of the border, not only the northern part where Ashura-3 was held.

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Iran "reserved the right to defend its people against aggression." And today's prayers in Tehran featured repeated calls for revenge against the Taliban.

Several countries, including the United States, have appealed to Iran not to attack Afghanistan. It is not clear what effect, if any, those appeals will have on Teheran.

Whatever move is decided, it is not likely to take place before the three-day period of official mourning ends in Iran.

But, it is clear that the strong, and growing, Iranian military presence along the Afghan border has already affected the political situation in the region.