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Afghan Factions to Meet in Berlin - 2001-11-20

The United Nations says it has reached agreement with nearly all of Afghanistan's major political factions to hold talks on a future for the war-ravaged country. The diplomatic breakthrough came late Tuesday, after a senior U.N. diplomat held four days of talks with some of the various groups that have replaced the Taleban.

Francesc Vendrell, the deputy U.N. representative for Afghanistan says nearly all of the country's political factions will meet next week in Berlin, Germany, for talks that will focus on developing an interim government to run Afghanistan, until a more permanent government can be formed.

Agreement to hold the talks came after intensive discussions in Afghanistan. Leaders of the Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, had originally wanted the talks held in Kabul, which they seized after the Taleban withdrew to their southern stronghold Kandahar.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdhullah says he and other senior leaders of the Northern Alliance strongly support the U.N. effort to develop a consensus for a post-Taleban future at the meeting in Berlin. "The discussions, which we had had in the past few days concluded this afternoon, among ourselves," he said. "But we had already assured Mr. Vendrell about our decision to attend the meeting in Germany as soon as possible."

Also attending the Berlin meeting will be representatives of Afghanistan's exiled king, Zahir Shah, and prominent Afghan exiles who have been active in two different negotiating efforts in recent years to achieve a political solution for Afghanistan.

On his last day of talks in Afghanistan, Mr. Vendrell met with Pashtun tribal leaders from parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. He says he received a pledge of support from the Pashtuns for the Berlin process.

Mr. Vendrell says it would be a mistake to assume that Pashtuns in Afghanistan are only represented by the Taleban. "It seems to all of us that the Taleban, as a movement, as a structure, is on the verge of collapse," he said. "That does not mean, incidentally ... that the Pashtuns will not be represented. I think, it is a disservice to the Pashtuns to suggest that their representative, somehow or another, are the Taleban."

Mr. Vendrell says the United Nations will pay special attention in Berlin to the concerns of the Hazara minority community. He says he believes from his discussions with Hazara leaders that they will also support the Berlin meeting.

Despite the agreement from representatives of most of Afghanistan's ethnic groups to support the Berlin meeting, Mr. Vendrell cautioned that decades of suspicion and hostility in Afghanistan will not be overcome easily. "We are very aware that convening this group - four groups - will not mean that every single Afghan will feel totally happy and fully represented by such a gathering," said Francesc Vendrell. "But we had to proceed quickly. It's a first step. It is not the final step."

Mr. Vendrell says he thinks the Berlin meeting will be as representative a gathering as can be achieved under the present circumstances. The veteran U.N. diplomat says the Berlin meeting could last until early December, and that the talks will provide a chance for nearly all Afghans to begin a new era after more than two decades of war and conflict.