Fragile Afghan peace: gunfire, plot against king, threats to parents

Saturday, April 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The fragile nature of Afghanistan's peace was evident Saturday, as French peacekeepers were shot at, a plot to assassinate the returned king was uncovered and parents were threatened with death for educating their children.

Still, Afghan refugees continued streaming home by the tens of thousands from camps abroad, perhaps the best indication that many believe their country is moving away from decades of war.

One French soldier suffered a slight leg injury Friday night when gunmen opened fire on his patrol near the Kabul airport, said Capt. Serge Khun, spokesman for the 18-nation, 4,500-member international peacekeeping force responsible for security in Kabul, the capital.

The French patrol fired back but the four alleged attackers escaped, Khun said. The wounded peacekeeper resumed his duties Saturday, said Maj. Can Oz, another spokesman.

At Bagram air base, 40 miles north of Kabul, British Royal Marines said Saturday they received reports that assassins posing as journalists might try to kill former Afghan king Mohammad Zaher Shah, who returned Thursday from 29 years of exile in Rome.

``There is a threat against the king,'' spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Harradine said.

Harradine gave no more details, other than to say there are ``many factions'' that would like to kill the former king.

U.S. military spokesman Capt. Steven O'Connor said he was unaware of any threats on Zaher Shah's life. An aide to the deposed king, Azim Nasser-Zia, shook his head and walked away when asked whether he heard about an assassination plot.

Zaher Shah, overthrown by a 1973 palace coup, was stabbed several times in Rome 11 years ago by a man posing as a journalist. Also, two men posing as journalists killed popular northern alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massood last September, only two days before the terrorist attacks in the United States.

The former king was treated Saturday to folk dancing by about 100 tribal elders and other dignitaries at his Kabul house, participants said. The visitors beat drums and danced Attani Mili _ ``national dance'' _ in the two-story house.

A delighted Zaher Shah clapped, kissed the dancers and gave money to the musicians, visitors said. At one point, he beat on a drum.

``The king was laughing,'' said Haji Ismatullah, a 48-year-old tribal chief from Helmand province.

Zaher Shah also had lunch with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai at his former palace, which now houses Karzai's offices. Afghan television said top government officials and relatives of the former king also attended.

Also, leaflets threatening death to parents who send their children to school were found in Kandahar, once the spiritual headquarters of the deposed Taliban regime, which restricted education, an Afghan official said Saturday.

Khalid Pashtun, spokesman for Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha, said the leaflets were an attempt to sabotage the interim regime that succeeded the Taliban in December. The leaflets say parents who send their children to school will be killed and their homes burned down.

Security forces have made some arrests concerning the leaflets, which surfaced in the last few days, Pashtun said. Their connections to the leaflets were not immediately known.

There was no indication who was distributing the leaflets, but Pashtun blamed either the ousted Taliban or supporters of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has opposed U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

During the Taliban's five years in power, girls were deprived of an education and boys' lessons were restricted to Islamic themes. The new Afghan regime has reopened schools to girls and broadened the curriculum.

Local radio stations urged people to ignore the threats.

``Don't worry. The Afghan government and the Afghan security forces will protect you,'' an announcer said on Kandahar Radio.

Also, the United Nations said nearly 300,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan and Iran in the past seven weeks, creating ``the biggest and fastest (refugee return) since 800,000 refugees went home to Kosovo in 1999.''

Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Islamabad, Pakistan, that relief groups would help returning refugees build new homes, dig wells and acquire the basic necessities to live in a country devastated by 23 years of war.

But Lubbers complained that promised international funding was not forthcoming. He said his office needs $25 million a month to meet its target of returning 1.2 million displaced people by the end of this year.