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Saturday, 16 September, 2000, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Afghan war threatens region
US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright(c), addressing the six plus two group on Afghanistan peace
Afghanistan peace group rife with internal rivalries
By Mark Devenport, New York

Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia and six of Afghanistan's neighbours have expressed grave concern over the intensifying fighting in Afghanistan and its negative humanitarian consequences.

The ministers issued their statement after a round table meeting at the United Nations.

It was attended by both the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi - the first such encounter in more than 20 years.

The group's track record on promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan has so far not been very impressive, with both Iran and Pakistan accused of favouring opposing sides in the country's civil war.

Taleban fighters

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who chaired the session, told the foreign ministers that the recent advances by the Taleban militia indicated that they might still be "mistakenly betting on a military solution to Afghanistan's problems."

Taleban militia
The Taleban have gained more territory
He said the seizure of Talekan by the Taleban raised the possibility that their opponents, the United Front, may lose more territory.

Mr Annan said the latest fighting had forced thousands of civilians to flee from their homes, further exacerbatng Afghanistan's already appalling humanitarian crisis.

He said the conflict was not merely an internal Afghan problem, but constituted a growing threat to stability in the region and beyond.

Peace negotiations

UN Sec-Gen, Kofi Annan
Mr Annan fears the fighting could destabilise region
The foreign ministers expressed their grave concern about the recent fighting and emphasised there could be no military solution.

They called again on the warring parties to agree a ceasefire and start peace negotiations.

Only last year, Mr Annan was questioning the relevance of the six plus two group to the search for peace in Afghanistan, given the way in which rivalries between its members appeared to be frustrating all the UN's efforts.

But now, the UN appears to be hoping the group will play a more active role, describing it as an essential forum for the solution of the Afghan question.

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan refugees head for Tajikistan
12 Aug 00 | South Asia
Refugee surge from Afghan fighting
18 Aug 00 | Europe
UN warns of world refugee crisis
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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