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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 18:48 GMT
Afghan talks reach crunch point
Haji Ataullah Alkozai of the Peshawar Group at the talks
Delegates are expected to work through the night
Talks between the rival Afghan factions on new power-sharing institutions are entering a crucial phase.

Faction leaders meeting in Germany are set to work through the night to hammer out an agreement on an interim executive for their country and are not expected to emerge until a result has been achieved.

UN officials had originally hoped that agreement could be reached on Saturday, but an evening briefing on the progress of the talks has been postponed indefinitely.

The focus of discussion has narrowed from trying to agree on a broad-based interim government to seeking a consensus on the composition of a small executive, or cabinet, to run the country for the next few months, delegates and conference sources said.

UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi
Brahimi is pushing for agreement as time runs out
The change of emphasis at the United Nations-sponsored talks came after progress was held up by divisions within the main group, the Northern Alliance, which controls the capital Kabul.

But the alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, later said that he was optimistic about a result and that the alliance was ready to transfer power to a transitional authority not headed by the alliance's leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Clash of generations

The leader of the alliance delegation at the talks, Yunus Qanooni, said the deal on the table in Germany was "a golden opportunity which must be seized".

This is a very golden opportunity which must be seized

Yunus Qanooni
Billions of dollars in foreign aid hanging on agreement on a transitional government by the Afghan factions.

But Mr Qanooni, seen as a member of a younger generation of Afghan politicians, said that some leaders in Kabul - apparently referring to Mr Rabbani's supporters - were "still interested in maintaining the old order".

Click here for a who's who of the Afghan power brokers.

Mr Rabbani finds some elements of the UN proposals, such as the creation of a multi-national peacekeeping force, unacceptable.
Yunus Qanooni
Yunus Qanooni: voice of the younger generation?

But a BBC correspondent in Kabul says the popular mood in Kabul is overwhelmingly in favour of some sort of UN peacekeeping mission as the best guarantee of stability.

He says Mr Rabbani has little popular support and the sentiment in the capital is that the two things he has been objecting to - a broad-based government and international peacekeepers - are Afghanistan's only hope.

Urgent call to Kabul

The chairman of the talks in Germany, UN special representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, is reported to have telephoned Mr Rabbani on Saturday to appeal to him to reach an agreement with the other three factions represented in Germany.

Mr Brahimi earlier rejected an alliance request for a 10-day adjournment of the talks.

Our diplomatic correspondent says Mr Rabbani has a lot to lose from the formation of a new administration because he might not play a prominent part in it.

Afghan children at refugee camp
More than 7.5 million Afghans require urgent aid
The UN insists that it expects the Afghan leaders to hold to any agreement reached in Germany.

"We have Mr Rabbani's word that he will respect whatever comes out of the Bonn talks, UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Besides the Northern Alliance, the conference brings together delegations from the former king, Zahir Shah, and two other small exile groups.

The Northern Alliance objects to a proposal for the ex-king to head an interim administration.

The BBC's James Robbins
"These talks are still at risk"
Ishaw Shariyar, advisor, Afghan King's delegation
"There are still minor details to be worked out"
Dr Azam Dadfar of the United Front team
"It's not easy to solve the problems of 23 years in five days"
See also:

01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kandahar prepares for showdown
01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Survivors 'found at Mazar fort'
30 Nov 01 | South Asia
Prominent al-Qaeda member captured
30 Nov 01 | South Asia
Leading Pashtun quits Afghan talks
30 Nov 01 | South Asia
'Cautious' UN optimism on Afghan aid
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kandahar prepares for showdown
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