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BBC Eurasia analyst Adrian Foreman
"Mr Masood is all that's left of the old order"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
France welcomes Afghan rebel
Ahmed Shah Masood with Hubert Vedrine
Ahmed Masood (left) met Hubert Vedrine for an hour
The opposition Afghan military commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, has appealed for international support to help confront the Taleban.


Any help that countries can give us for reconquering our country, we need it

Ahmed Masood
Mr Masood, who is visiting France, had a private meeting with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, and is shortly due to address the European parliament in Strasbourg.

The visit comes at a time when relations between his political opponents back home, the Taleban, and the West are particularly poor.

The Taleban has reacted angrily to the visit.

Garnering support

In a rare foray from his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, in north-eastern Afghanistan, Mr Masood spent an hour with Mr Vedrine in closed-door talks.

"Any help that countries can give us for reconquering our country, we need it," he told a news conference after the meeting.

Opposition fighters in Afghanistan
Masood controls a sliver of territory in the north-east
He also asked for strong diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, who are the Taleban's strongest international backers.

The French foreign ministry did not offer any comments of their own.

The president of the European parliament, Nicola Fontaine, said it was important that France showed its support to those who were opposing "the fanatical Taleban regime".

"Democratic nations should clearly show they do not tolerate the existence of a political system that... denies the most elementary rights of human beings," she said.

A BBC correspondent says Mr Masood's visit to France will provide a boost to his prestige in Afghanistan, at a time when the opposition is weaker militarily than it has ever been.

His Northern Alliance forces control a mere 10% of Afghanistan - a situation which has not been helped by Mr Masood's strategic failures.

He did not build alliances within the country that might have reinforced his power base and he shied away from travelling abroad to whip up potential support in the West.

Anti-Taleban

The BBC's Eurasia analyst, Adrian Foreman, says however that Mr Masood is not just another regional warlord.

He was a high-profile member of the ousted government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Since the world still officially recognises President Rabbani, it makes him an official representative of the government.

For its part, the Taleban authorities say the visit will merely prolong the Afghan civil war.

Afghanistan's hardline Islamic rulers have come under severe international criticism for its recent destruction of ancient Buddhist artefacts.

France condemned the Taleban for the destruction, warning it would lead to international hostility towards the movement.

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