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Afghans celebrate Islamic holidays with freedom, but worry about the future

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghans gathered Friday in mosques and at the homes of relatives to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, with many welcoming the new freedom that came with the fall of the Taliban, even in the shadow of renewed security concerns.

Underscoring the potential for danger, the international peacekeeping force in the capital of Kabul announced Friday that investigators have concluded that two or three gunmen opened fire on British peacekeepers as they got out of their jeep to begin a Wednesday night patrol.

Police are still searching for the gunmen, said Capt. Graham Dunlop, spokesman of the peacekeeping force.

Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, tried to downplay rifts in his government and the CIA warned that the seeds for a renewed civil war were present.

In Kabul, residents sacrificed sheep in the courtyards of their home to mark the three-day holiday and distributed food among relatives and the poor.

Butcher Farzad Fakiri said he welcomed the freedom that came with the Taliban regime's fall in November, but worried about the future.

``We are free. We can do what we want,'' said Fakiri, as he walked down a muddy potholed street with an ax on his shoulder, offering to butcher animals.

``As for the future, I'm not so sure,'' he said. ``For the time being, everything is good, but the future depends on God.''

Afghanistan's fragile unity seems to be fraying with reports that thousands of ethnic Pashtuns were fleeing their homes, claiming that anti-Taliban commanders have been inciting people to loot their homes and, in some cases, kill them.

The French aid organization Doctors Without Borders issued an urgent appeal Thursday for more food aid in northern Afghanistan, saying malnutrition, mortality rates and the number of displaced people are all rising sharply.

In recent days about 20,000 Afghans, mostly people fleeing drought, hunger and ethnic strife, have abandoned the north, said U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan.

``It is a very disturbing picture of gross human rights violations,'' he said. Hassan did not give a breakdown of how many were fleeing ethnic tensions and how many were seeking food.

The Taliban were dominated by Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. The U.S.-backed northern alliance was largely Tajik and Uzbek and minority Shiite Muslims.

The United Nations has complained to the interim government, Hassan said, but ``many of those areas are areas where there is no national authority.''

Large parts of Afghanistan are controlled by local warlords. The national government has no army.

Achieving a stable government depends on whether the administration can rein in the ethnic, tribal and personal rivalries that have been tearing apart the Central Asian nation of 24 million people for more than two decades

In the capital, Kabul, investigators concluded that two or three gunmen opened fire on a British patrol from a distance of about 800 yards, Dunlop said. The British returned fire. It was the second shooting incident in a week. There were no casualties in the Wednesday shooting.

Afghanistan's government has been trying to create an image of unity, but that cohesion came into question this week after Karzai accused senior members of his own administration of assassinating aviation minister Abdul Rahman during a riot last week among would-be Islamic pilgrims at the Kabul airport.

Foreign Minister Abdullah publicly disavowed Karzai's version of events, saying the angry mob, not government conspirators, killed Rahman. Both Karzai and Abdullah have sought to quell media speculation of a rift inside the government.

The Cabinet is ``extremely united,'' Karzai told Associated Press Television News.

Yet he stood firm on his initial claim of a conspiracy in the killing.

``The investigation is going on. We know who did it and these people are being investigated,'' he said.

Interior Minister Younis Qanooni said Friday that Saudi authorities will deport two suspects in connection with the slaying.

``After Eid they will return them,'' Qanooni said. He did not identify the suspects.

A classified CIA report said that tensions between ethnic groups represents a long term danger to the country.

``Civil war is not imminent but the seeds are there,'' a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
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