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Afghanistan: Accord Nears As Factional Fighting Erupts

Bonn, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan leaders are again meeting near the German city of Bonn in another bid to finalize an accord on their country's political future. Leaders of the Northern Alliance in Kabul today said their delegation can choose from among four names to head an interim administration. They are: Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai; former President Sibghatullah Mujadadi; Abdul Sattar Sirat, a top aide to former King Zahir Shah; and former guerilla commander Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani. All except Sirat -- an ethnic Uzbek -- are from the majority Pashtun.

But the Northern Alliance leaders did not authorize their delegation to decide on the composition of the 20-plus-member, cabinet-style interim administration. The interim administration provides a key part of the provisional political structure that is to guide Afghanistan for close to six months before handing over authority to a transitional government.

Meanwhile, a UN spokesman said factional fighting in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif has prompted the United Nations to evacuate its international staff there.

Khaled Mansour said there has been sporadic fighting and shooting in the city. He said it is not clear who is fighting whom.

Northern Alliance forces under General Abdul Rashid Dostum captured the city from Taliban troops in November.

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker today said the security situation is deteriorating in Mazar-i-Sharif and in Kandahar in the south. She said relief operations are consequently being obstructed in those areas. Bunker said the situation is improving daily in Kabul and the western city of Herat.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition said Taliban forces today were firing anti-aircraft missiles at U.S. planes from residential areas of Kandahar.

Spokesman Kenton Keith said the tactic appeared designed to encourage U.S. pilots to hit civilian targets. Keith also said the Taliban were using civilians as "human shields" and hiding their forces in and around places like mosques and schools.

U.S. planes have been bombing Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, almost around the clock in recent days. Keith said anti-Taliban tribal forces were attacking the city on three fronts -- from the east, north and southeast -- but he could not confirm opposition claims to be close to taking the airport today.

U.S. planes overnight and early today also bombed the mountain area around the eastern city of Jalalabad, where key terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden is suspected to be hiding.