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Afghan Delegates Continue to Debate Make-Up of Interim Government - 2001-12-01

The United Nations-sponsored talks in Germany aimed at setting up a broad-based interim government in Afghanistan went into their fifth day, and UN officials say there is no agreement as yet among the four rival groups at the table. The delegates are considering a new proposal for a small legislative body with executive powers to run the country for the next few months, but the problem of dividing up the seats among the various groups is still unresolved.

The Northern Alliance, the most powerful of the groups at the conference, has proposed that the delegates agree on the formation of a so-called national council with both legislative and executive powers.

The UN's roadmap for Afghanistan's political future had set as a goal the creation of an interim legislature and an interim administration. But Azam Dadfar, an advisor to the Northern Alliance delegation, said it was too difficult to agree on who should be members of the legislative body, which was supposed to have between 150 and 200 seats.

Mr. Dadfar says the new, smaller legislative-executive body would have 20-to-30 seats.

The problem is that the four groups have not yet been able to agree on who will sit on such a body and who will hold such key jobs as the defense, interior and foreign ministries.

Nor is it clear who will head this smaller, streamlined council. In Kabul, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said his organization is willing to transfer power to the new body, and that the alliance's nominal leader, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, will not head the council.

Mr. Rabbani had earlier thrown up a roadblock to the progress of the talks, being held at a mountaintop hotel near Bonn, when he undercut his own delegation, and insisted that members of the new government be chosen in Kabul, not in Germany.

Western diplomats observing the talks say there are strong fissures within the Northern Alliance. Not only do they point to the rift between Mr. Rabbani and his delegation at the talks. They are also concerned about Mr. Abdullah's statement that the alliance's council members will be chosen in a few days.

The UN wants to wrap up these talks by Sunday or, at the latest, Monday, and UN officials say the bottom line for the success of this conference is an agreement on the composition of the new governing council.

Two other items on the immediate agenda - the establishment of a commission to call a grand assembly of tribal leaders and the dispatch of a UN-sponsored security force to Afghanistan - will only be considered once the council has been set up.