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Fighting in Western Afghanistan Ends; 100 Dead - 2004-03-22

Violent factional clashes that erupted in western Afghanistan on Sunday have ended, leaving at least 100 people dead, including the country's aviation minister.

Tank and gun battles flared in the western city of Herat Sunday after unidentified gunmen assassinated Mirwais Sadiq, Afghanistan's civil aviation minister, and the son of powerful provincial governor Ismail Khan.

The fighting in Herat pitted the forces of a local militia commander, Zahir Nayebzada, and Governor Khan after the commander said his forces were responsible for the killing.

Sources at the defense ministry in Kabul say the governor's forces have taken control of commander Nayebzada's militia barracks and have detained some of his fighters, but the commander himself escaped. The sources say some 1,500 newly U.S. trained Afghan National Army soldiers are due to arrive in the troubled region by Tuesday morning to assist in efforts to maintain peace.

Speaking by telephone from Kabul, Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad described the latest situation in Herat. “There is calm in the city even though the situation is a bit tense,” he says. “But a high-level government delegation headed by the ministers of defense and interior have gone to Herat to assess the situation, to find out why and how these clashes did take place, which took the life of a minister and resulted in casualties.”

The United States has urged those involved to remain calm and to abide by the rule of law and avoid further bloodshed. Washington's embassy in Kabul said in a statement that "Afghans must not let the success of the last two years be put in jeopardy by this incident."

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Samad says the clashes will not affect political and economic reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. “The country is moving forward. The political process is going to end with elections very soon, this coming summer,” he says. “The reconstruction efforts are going on. So yes, the country does face occasionally certain issues and challenges, but it's not going to take us off track.”

President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he was "deeply shocked" by the killing of the minister and promised to take action against those responsible. Civil Aviation Minister Sadiq was the third cabinet member to be killed since President Karzai's government came to power to replace the Taleban in late 2001.