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Wednesday, September 16, 1998 Published at 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK

World: South Asia

Iran and Taleban continue war of words

There is agreat deal of public anger in Iran over the killings

Jim Muir: "Both Iran... and the Taleban have been pressing the UN to play a role"
Iranian radio says two of its diplomats who survived when the Taleban seized Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan last month have arrived back in Iran.

One of the men was not at the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e Sharif when nine of his colleagues were killed; the other one escaped after being shot and wounded by the Taleban fighters.

UN condemns killings

The UN Security Council has issued a statement condemning the killings of the diplomats.

The Security Council said the murder of the Iranian diplomats is "a crime committed in flagrant violation of international law."

The BBC Middle East correspondent Jim Muir, who is in Tehran, says the Iranian Government is looking very much to the UN to play a role and is probably encouraged by the Security Council's statement.

Tension across the border

Nine Iranian army divisions are heading for the Afghan border to take part in massive military manoeuvres that were announced last Saturday.

[ image: Iran is stepping up pressure with  its military exercises]
Iran is stepping up pressure with its military exercises
The army command said special exercises, named "Pirouzi 9", have been devised for armoured, mechanised, infantry, artillery and commando units.

The Iranian navy will also be taking part. The border between the two countries is landlocked, but they share a large lake.

Taleban to answer

The Taleban vowed to answer back in the event of an Iranian strike.

A spokesman for the Afghan movement said the Taleban would "target Iranian cities if our territory is attacked".

The Taleban's representative to the UN warned Iran about the Taleban's arsenal.

Correspondents say the Taleban have Russian-made Scud missiles, of the same type that Iraq used to target Israeli cities during the Gulf War.

"We have deployed our soldiers with all kinds of weapons," warned the Taleban representative.

Room for diplomacy

Jim Muir: "Iran is still hoping that a political way out can be found"
Our correspondent in Tehran says that despite the rising tension, Iran is still hoping that a political way out can be found.

The Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, said that all political and international options should be exhausted before military action is resorted to.

"Before taking any military actions against the Taleban, we must provide an opportunity to explore all political and peaceful solutions in line with Iran's interests," said Mr Kharrazi.

But he warned that Iran's patience "has a limit and the Taleban better not lose these opportunities, which are fast flying by."

Protests in Tehran

In Tehran, hundreds of protesters demonstrated over the killings of the diplomats, shouting "death to the Taleban".

Further demonstrations have been announced for Friday.

Iranian TV said the people of Tehran will express their "contempt at the crimes committed by the Taleban group" and declare their readiness to defend the aspirations of Islam and their national interests".

The bodies of the six diplomats and the correspondent killed by the Taleban will be buried on the same day, after Friday prayer ceremonies in Tehran.

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