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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 16:38 GMT
UN 'averts war in Mazar'
Fighters allied to General Dostum on a hillside
Factional fighting threatens Afghanistan's fragile peace
It has emerged that United Nations intermediaries helped prevent a major outbreak of fighting in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan last week.

Two rival factions, wrangling for control of the city, had each mobilised about 1,000 men and were marching on Mazar-e-Sharif.

There is no problem any more. A ceasefire has been enforced

Mohammad Sardar Saeedi, leader of Hezb-i-Wahdat
But, following UN intervention, the sides agreed to establish a security commission, and set up a 600-strong multi-factional police force.

However, latest reports suggest the talks have run into difficulties and will continue on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a team of negotiators from Afghanistan's interim government is in the southern city of Gardez trying to settle a dispute over who should be governor of Paktia province.

There has been heavy fighting in Gardez, where a government-appointed governor was battling with a locally-appointed leader for control.

Both sides were expected to hold peace talks on Monday.

Tanks mobilised

Last week, Mazar saw several days of clashes between two warring factions - the ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i- Mellie, controlled by General Dostum, and Jamiat-i-Islami, ethnic Tajiks controlled by Ustad Atta Mohammad.

Fighter loyal to General Dostum
All heavy weaponry will be removed from the city
Reuters news agency says more than 40 people were killed in what was the most serious fighting in the area since the Northern Alliance seized control of the city from the Taleban in November.

The situation threatened to explode last Thursday when both groups each mobilised about 1,000 soldiers - Jamiat had also mobilised 10 tanks.

In response, the UN sent negotiators to mediate between the two groups, as well as with a third operating in the area - the ethnic Hazara faction Hezb-i-Wahdat.

Following the talks, all three agreed to hand control of the city to a new security council, which will be set up in a week's time.

Under the agreement, two-hundred fighters are to be taken from each of the three groups to form a 600-strong multi-factional police force for the city.

Talks held on implementing the deal were not concluded and will carry on on Tuesday, reports say.

Karzai call

Under the deal all heavy machine guns, tanks and armoured personnel carriers will be withdrawn from Mazar-e-Sharif, closely scrutinised by a UN observer.

In addition, all three groups are required to leave all state premises that have been taken over by their fighters and release dozens of prisoners who are being held captive in metal containers.

"There is no problem any more. A ceasefire has been enforced," Mohammad Sardar Saeedi, leader of Hezb-i-Wahdat, said.

"The formation of the commission is welcomed by the people who were really concerned about the recent fighting," Mr Saeedi said.

Mazar-e-Sharif was the scene of bitter factional fighting for several years before the Taleban seized control in 1998.

The BBC's Kate Clarke spoke to local people there, who said they were reminded of 1998, when two of the factions battled with each other, even as the Taleban captured Mazar-e-Sharif.

A number of countries have pledged major aid donations to help with the rebuilding of Afghanistan, but on the condition that there is security - which remains a major challenge for Hamid Karzai's caretaker government.

"This is one more reason why we should finish warlordism in this country," Mr Karzai said of the recent unrest.

See also:

03 Feb 02 | South Asia
Karzai tackles warlord dispute
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Rival factions clash in Gardez
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Mazar-e-Sharif's bloody history
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