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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 19:38 GMT
Afghan groups agree path to peace
Delegates at UN-sponsored Afghan talks in Germany
Delegates say the talks will mark a new era of peace
Delegates from rival Afghan factions attending landmark talks in Germany have agreed on the principle of forming a broad-based transitional government.

The delegates at the United Nations-sponsored conference have set themselves a deadline of three to five days to agree on the shape of an interim administration and possibly a multinational force for Afghanistan, according to UN spokesman Ahmed Fawzi.

Rona Mansuri - a delegate at the talks
A rare woman among the delegates
The chief Northern Alliance delegate, Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni, said the group was not seeking unilateral power in Afghanistan despite its military victories over the Taleban.

But questions persist about how representative the conference is - especially of Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

The Taleban draw most of their support from the Pashtuns but are not represented at the talks.

Next Steps
Agreement on transitional supreme council
Nomination of broader transitional government
Council of elders or "Loya Jirga"
Leaders of all four Afghan delegations at the talks in Koenigswinter, outside Bonn, used similar language to call for a new era of dignity and peace, Ahmed Fawzi said.

Delegates expressed optimism that the talks would mark a historic turning point and unanimously approved the three main points on the agenda, he added.

The first, he said, was to form an "interim supreme council" to guide Afghanistan through a period of transition to democracy, which the UN hopes will last about six months.

A broader interim government is then to be agreed - and finally a "loya jirga" or council of elders would be convened in Afghanistan to decide how the country will be governed after the six-month transition.

In other developments:

  • US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the US has identified 40 possible sites in Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has been researching weapons of mass destruction
  • Amnesty International says there must be an inquiry into the bloody crushing of a Taleban prisoners' revolt in Afghanistan
  • US attorney general, John Ashcroft, has said he believes some al-Qaeda members are in US custody
  • The US says it has identified more than 40 sites in Afghanistan that could link Osama Bin Laden to weapons of mass destruction
  • The UN food agency says it is concerned for the well-being of more than 200,000 people facing possible starvation in Kandahar
  • Iraq rejects President Bush's call for Baghdad to allow arms inspectors back, saying it will "not bow to threats".

As the talks got under way, special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi read out a message from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, urging the rival groups not to repeat past mistakes by plunging Afghanistan back into civil war.

Four delegations are attending the meeting:

  • The Northern Alliance, the largest, which controls the Afghan capital Kabul. The alliance's military victories have largely overtaken the political process in recent weeks, and the strength of its commitment to share power is still untested
  • Zahir Shah's delegation. The former king, an ethnic Pashtun, is seen by some as a potential unifying figurehead in a nation of many different ethnic and linguistic groups
  • The Cyprus Group, made up of Afghan exiles, politicians and former mujahideen fighters believed to be close to Iran
  • The Peshawar Group, headed by Pakistan-backed Pashtun leader Pir Gailani, thought to support the former king

Click here for a guide to the key powerbrokers

The Northern Alliance and Pakistan, once the Taleban's main backer, have indicated that they want to close the chapter on their past hostility.

A BBC analyst says that could have far-reaching implications for Afghanistan's future - particularly if the Northern Alliance emerges as the main party in the transitional government.

Ethnic balance

The Northern Alliance - dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks - says its delegation is "ethnically balanced" because it includes Pashtuns and members of other groups.

Women demonstrators near the conference venue demand more rights for Afghan women
Outside the conference, protesters demand more rights for Afghan women

But the BBC's Brian Hanrahan, at the talks, says that although the ex-king's representatives also include Pashtuns, they live outside the country, and nobody is representing the Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan.

As the delegates continued their meetings in the palatial Petersberg government guesthouse overlooking the Rhine, an Afghan tribal leader telephoned UN officials to express support for the peace process.

"This meeting is the path towards salvation," Mr Fawzi quoted Hamid Karzai, a influential anti-Taleban Pashtun leader in southern Afghanistan, as saying during his call.

"We are one nation, one culture, we are united and not divided," Mr Karzai said. "We all believe in Islam but in an Islam of tolerance."

The BBC's James Robbins
"Four rival groups converging on a UN roundtable"
UN spokesman Ahmed Fawzi
on the atmosphere at the conference
Alliance's Foreign minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah
"We are ready to make compromises"
Fatima Gailani, Afghan advisor in Bonn
"It is not just about women's issues"
See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Tribal voices 'left unheard'
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
US hopeful before Afghan talks
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of exclusion
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban prisoners fight to the last
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda 'weapons labs' probe
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