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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Drugs-row standoff in Afghan city
By Andrew North
BBC correspondent in Kabul

General Atta Mohammed
Atta Mohammed: Hundreds of his men surrounded Khakrezwal's home
An Afghan government delegation has been sent to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif to mediate between a militia leader and a police chief.

The forces of General Atta Mohammed have trapped police chief Akram Khakrezwal in his home for four days.

Mr Khakrezwal had alleged that Gen Mohammed was heavily involved in the drugs trade.

British soldiers in the northern city have also been trying to mediate to resolve the standoff.

No power base

The dispute began last weekend after police seized a consignment of illegal opium and is emblematic of problems facing the whole country.

Accusations were quickly traded and Mr Khakrezwal made his drugs allegation in a BBC interview.

Soon after the broadcast, several hundred men loyal to the commander surrounded Mr Khakrezwal's home.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, the police chief said they were still there.

He and his bodyguards had been running low on food and water, he said, until a British military team in Mazar brought in new supplies.

Just a month ago, the police chief complained he was unable to tackle drug traffickers because of the power of local militia commanders, although at that time he did not name names.

By doing so now, says a senior UN official in the city, the police chief may have left himself exposed because he is from the southern city of Kandahar and lacks a local power base.

In many ways, this is a microcosm of difficulties nationwide - drug-related tension and strong local militia commanders able to exert their will against weak, centrally appointed officials.

The omens do not look promising for the central government in this latest dispute.

Although its delegation has yet to announce recommendations, many in Mazar see little way of resolving the standoff other than to replace the police chief, who was given the job by President Hamid Karzai just last October.

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