U.N. envoy in Kabul for talks with Afghan factions

Tuesday, December 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Trying to smooth the way for the new post-Taliban government, U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for talks with leaders of some of Afghanistan's quarrelsome political factions.

``We hope we can have a lasting peace,'' acting foreign minister Abdullah said as he headed into talks with the U.N. envoy. ``We hope this will be a historical moment in the history of Afghanistan.''

A peacekeeping force for Afghanistan was high on the agenda in the two-day round of meetings with ex-president Burhunuddin Rabbani and others, Brahimi's spokesman said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Britain will take the lead role in overseeing the peacekeeping effort. Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Powell said the next step would be ``to get a U.N. resolution in place'' to formally set up such a force.

It was not yet clear whether Brahimi would meet Hamid Karzai, the new interim prime minister. Karzai told journalists in the southern city of Kandahar on Monday that he would head to Kabul within days, but did not say exactly when.

Kandahar was abandoned by the Taliban on Friday, and Karzai negotiated a power-sharing agreement among rival tribal groups after it fell.

Afghanistan's new government is to take office on Dec. 22, and the various parties _ including the northern alliance, which has the majority of seats in the 29-member Cabinet _ are already complaining about the allocation of power.

Brahimi's spokesman Ahmed Fawzi acknowledged there are differences among the factions.

``We don't pretend that these accords are the perfect solution for Afghanistan,'' he told journalists.

A main source of dissent is the allocation of the three key ministries _ defense, foreign and interior. All three went to Jamiat-e-Islami, the party of Rabbani, who heads the northern alliance.

In return for those key posts, Rabbani agreed to give up power to Karzai, who will head the U.N.-brokered transitional regime for the crucial next six months.

Fawzi said the presence of a peacekeeping force was being discussed intensively.

''(The) question of security force is high on the agenda of these talks,'' he said. But he added: ``Whichever force that will be deployed will be with the consent of the Afghan people ... and won't be imposed.''

Many Afghans support the presence of a peacekeeping force, fearing that bloody factional fighting would erupt otherwise. But some factional leaders _ including Abdur Rassool Sayyaf, who is now the deputy prime minister but has been largely sidelined in the new interim administration _ strongly oppose any peacekeeping presence.

Factional warfare raged when Rabbani ruled between 1992 and 1996. Much of Kabul was flattened then by groups that now make up the northern alliance.

They rained thousands of rockets on the city and killed approximately 50,000 people, most of them civilians. Their rule came to an abrupt end when the Taliban seized power and threw them out.