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Afghanistan: UN Relocates Three Workers, Citing Factional Fighting In Northern Regions

Fighting has erupted in northern Afghanistan between two rival factions of the former Northern Alliance that both have representatives in the new Transitional Authority. United Nations officials, who have relocated three staff members away from the fighting, describe the three-day battle as one of medium intensity. It remains unclear what impact the fighting may have on Afghanistan's new government.

Kabul, 27 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations announced today that it has relocated three of its international staff members from a town in northwestern Afghanistan because of nearby factional fighting.

It is the first time since last November that international UN staff in Afghanistan have been relocated due to tensions on the ground.

Details about the three-day battle are just beginning to emerge in the Afghan capital. It is not immediately clear what impact the clashes will have on relations between the rival warlords whose representatives now comprise Afghanistan's Transitional Authority.

The troops involved in the clashes are from two rival factions of the former Northern Alliance that have battled each other on at least four other occasions since the collapse of the Taliban regime. On one side are fighters from Jumbish-i-Milli, the political party of ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has his headquarters in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Dostum had been the deputy defense minister of Afghanistan's interim administration until last weekend, when the newly appointed Transitional Authority took power. Dostum did not receive a position in the new government, but he does have representatives from his party in the cabinet.

On the other side are soldiers under the command of Mohammad Atta, an ethnic Tajik commander of Panjshiri forces from the Jamiat-i-Islami political party.

Atta's Northern Alliance faction is the same group that seized control of Kabul when the Taliban fled the Afghan capital last November. Jamiat-i-Islami now dominates key posts within the Transitional Authority, including the ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as well as an advisory post that oversees the work of the Interior Ministry.

Atta's troops are now spread across part of at least six provinces of northern Afghanistan. They include the provinces of Balkh, Samangan, Baghlan, Sar-i-Pul, Jowzjan, and Faryab.

Ultimately, Atta's fighters fall under the command of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the deputy chief of the Transitional Authority who also serves as defense minister.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the chief spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the three foreign UN staff members were evacuated from Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province. But he said Afghan nationals continued to work at the UN offices in Maimana. "Three international staff members have been relocated from Maimana in Faryab Province to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif due to tension in the Maimana area. This tension is the result of fighting in [the nearby towns of] Sar-i-Pul and Shulgara," de Almeida e Silva said.

Maimana lies at the foot of the Torkestan Mountains and is about 45 kilometers southeast of the Afghan-Turkmenistan border. Almeida explained that the towns of Sar-i-Pul and Shulgara are both on a road that runs along the base of the Torkestan Mountains to link Faryab Province with Mazar-i-Sharif.

De Almeida e Silva said that medium-intensity factional fighting also has been reported in Jowzjan Province, essentially cutting off both of the main roads between Maimana and Mazar-i-Sharif. "One settlement southeast of Sar-i-Pul of some 150 families has been reportedly burned, while some 17 other [settlements] have been reported to be looted. I want to stress that these are reports that have [just] reached us," de Almeida e Silva said.

The UN spokesman said there also are reports of displaced civilians in the areas near the fighting. But he said it was not immediately clear how many people have fled their homes. "There are areas of the north that, of course, remain stable and people can go carry on with their work. As a matter of fact, that is what those [Afghan nationals with the UN] who remain in Maimana are doing," de Almeida e Silva said.

The European Union and the United Nations have warned Afghan leaders that international aid to Afghanistan's provincial regions could be jeopardized by such factional fighting.