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Afghanistan: UN Delegates Urge Northern Warlords To End Rivalry

Envoys from the UN Security Council met yesterday in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif for talks with the leaders of two former Northern Alliance militia forces that have clashed repeatedly since the Taliban regime was ousted two years ago.

Prague, 6 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A high-ranking delegation from the UN Security Council has urged two powerful warlords in northern Afghanistan to bring an end to fighting between their private militias.

Envoys from each of the Security Council's 15 member states visited the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif yesterday for talks that brought together ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik commander Ata Mohammad.

The militias of the two commanders fought against the Taliban regime together. But in the two years since the Taliban was ousted from power, the same militias have turned on each other repeatedly in hit-and-run battles that have brought instability and lawlessness to parts of five northern Afghan provinces.

Both militia commanders assured the UN delegation yesterday that they support the internationally backed Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. But German's UN ambassador, Guenter Pleuger, who was part of the delegation, said getting a verbal promise of support for Karzai was not the purpose of the visit. "Our aim was to deliver a message that cooperation between the local authorities here in the north and the factional leaders is essential for the political process -- that factional fighting has to stop because this should be a thing of the past, but not of the future," Pleuger said.

Ata Mohammad, who commands some 20,000 troops, has close ties with Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Both Ata Mohammad and Fahim are members of Jamiat-e Islami, a predominantly ethnic Tajik political grouping.

Ata Mohammad told reporters after yesterday's meeting that the UN ambassadors had raised the issues of security, cooperation with Karzai's central government and the battle against illegal drug trafficking,

Dostum's force of some 20,000 militia fighters is composed mostly of ethnic Uzbeks who are members of his political group, Junbish-e Melli. He told reporters that he was "happy" about yesterday's meeting. But he said Afghanistan needs international assistance in order to stem the production and smuggling of opium and heroin.

Pleuger said the most important issue facing Afghanistan is how to bring security to remote provinces in order to ensure free and fair democratic elections for a new Afghan president in June. The UN Security Council recently expanded the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force to include provinces outside of Kabul. And German troops this week began to deploy at a base for a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz.

Pleuger said Dostum and Ata Mohammad would set a good example for militia commanders in other parts of the country if they can put their differences aside so that democracy can flourish. "We got satisfying answers to our request that the local authorities cooperate with the government in Kabul," Pleuger said. "And we have stressed that, especially Mr. Dostum and Mr. Ata, are very influential and powerful leaders in this country, whose visions, whose views and deeds are affecting the fate of Afghanistan as a whole."

Pleuger also said cooperation from both Dostum and Ata Mohammad is vital to the success of the two-year-old UN-backed Bonn Process on post-Taliban reform. "We feel it is important they lend their full support not only to the necessary reforms that the Karzai government has started, but also to the reforms here in the north," Pleuger said.

Last month saw the bloodiest fighting between the militias of Dostum and Ata Mohammad of the past two years. Some 60 militia fighters from the two factions reportedly were killed when tanks and artillery faced off just outside of Mazar-e Sharif. That battle erupted despite numerous cease-fire deals brokered by Karzai's government and international officials.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali later dismissed several senior officials in the north. The central government also has stated that it would implement further dramatic steps, if necessary, to bring peace and establish security.

But tensions remain high. At least nine people have been killed and seven injured in the northern province of Sar-i-Pul following a renewed outbreak of fighting there last week.

Ata Mohammad said fighting is continuing and that representatives have been sent from Mazar-i-Sharif to Sar-i-Pul in an attempt to get local commanders from both sides to stop the shooting.

The UN delegates also met yesterday with the new interim governor of Balkh Province, of which Mazar-e Sharif is the capital. They also met UN officials who are based in northern Afghanistan, as well as British troops who have established a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e Sharif.

In addition to Germany's Pleuger, the delegates included the UN ambassadors for the United States, Britain, France, Mexico, Spain, and Bulgaria. There were also deputy ambassadors from other countries currently on the UN Security Council.

Their visit to Mazar-e Sharif is part of a five-day tour of Afghanistan aimed at demonstrating the international community's support for Afghan reconstruction and Karzai's government. Their tour was to conclude today.