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Factional Fighting Eases in Eastern Afghanistan

Calm has returned to the eastern Afghan town of Gardez, where two days of factional fighting left more than 50 people dead. A team has been sent from the capital to try to mediate the dispute.

Reports from Gardez say both sides spent Friday burying their dead and tending to their wounded, as local residents returned to their homes and shops.

For two days, forces loyal to Padsha Khan Zadran, and those of rival tribal leader Haji Saifullah, bombarded one another with mortar and artillery shells, as frightened residents fled the town. By Thursday night, Padsha Khan's forces had retreated to the hills around Gardez. A team of mediators was being dispatched from Kabul to try to resolve the issue.

The dispute is about who will control Gardez and the surrounding province of Paktia. Padsha Khan has been appointed governor of Paktia by the newly installed interim government in Kabul. But his appointment has been opposed by members of the Gardez local government, including Haji Saifullah, who heads the town council.

The fighting in Gardez highlights the difficulty Afghanistan's new interim government faces as it strives for unity and reconstruction, amid simmering tribal and factional rivalries.

Speaking in New York, interim Foreign Minister Abdullah called the fighting at Gardez an unfortunate incident. And in Rome, Afghanistan's exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, called for an end to factional fighting, appealing to his countrymen not to waste this opportunity to rebuild their country.