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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Afghan rebel visit sparks French row
Opposition soldiers, Takhar
Masood's forces are fighting for control of northern Afghanistan
By James Coomarasamy in Paris

The opposition Afghan military commander, General Ahmed Masood has arrived in Paris from Tajikistan.

During his visit - believed to be his first to the West - he'll meet French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, as well as members of the National Assembly.

Map
Later on Wednesday, he is expected to fly to Strasbourg, where he will address European parliamentarians.

The visit of the veteran commander comes at a time of particular tension between the West and his political opponents, Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement.

High-level welcome

There has been widespread criticism of the Taleban's decision to blow up two ancient Buddhist statues in central Bamiyan, despite pleas for clemency.

Although France says it is simply pursuing an even-handed policy by meeting General Masood, his high-level welcome has prompted an angry reaction in Kabul.

The Taleban foreign minister said it would embolden the country's opposition to continue its resistance and was thus a tyranny against the Afghan people.

In France, meanwhile, the visit has been criticised for not being on a high enough level.

A group of right- and left-wing MPs has signed a letter rounding on President Jacques Chirac for keeping silent about the visit of a man they call a "friend of France and a freedom fighter".

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | South Asia
Footage shows Buddhas blast
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
19 Jan 01 | South Asia
New UN sanctions on Taleban
12 Feb 01 | Americas
Diplomatic row for US and Taleban
16 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan war threatens region
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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