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Afghan Security Forces Arrest 300 Coup Suspects

Afghan security forces have arrested at least 300 people on charges of plotting to overthrow the interim government. Those arrested are reported to be members of a hardline Islamic militant group.

Afghan authorities say they have uncovered a plot by associates of former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to destabilize the Afghan interim government.

Lieutenant Colonel Neal Peckham, a spokesman for the international peacekeeping force in Kabul, says the arrests have been made over several days. "It is our understanding that the National Directorate of Security has been carrying out a series of ongoing operations for the past seven days or so, during which they have made a fairly significant number of arrests," he said. "And I believe the number is some 300 at the moment."

He adds that the arrests were conducted solely by Afghan security forces without support from the peacekeepers.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a former Mujahedin leader whose ferocious battles with other Afghan leaders in the early 1990s killed thousands of civilians and destroyed large parts of Kabul. He fled to Iran in after the Taleban came to power in 1996. Iranian authorities shut down his offices recently. His whereabouts are not currently known, but some reports say he is back in Afghanistan.

Afghan authorities say most of those arrested have been identified as members of Mr. Hekmatyar's hardline party, the Hezb-i-Islami. Colonel Peckham says some of those detained are Pakistanis with links to a pro-Hekmatyar religious-based party in Pakistan, the Jamaat-i-Islami. "Well, the information is a little vague," he said. "I understand that some of the arrests are personnel who I think are reported to be Pakistanis. They have been found with weapons and mines. And they apparently have linkages with the Jamaat-i-Islami grouping. Against that there was recently, more recently, an operation put in against a property belonging to a Mr. Sabaoon, who, I am told, has linkages with Mr. Hekmatyar. So, as I say, it seems to be fairly broad-ranging, and it is a matter for the IA [Interim Administration] to say what the reasons are behind these arrests."

Wahidullah Sabaoon was one of Mr. Hekmatyar's top aides. It is not clear if he is among those arrested.

Mr. Hekmatyar has been strongly opposed to the interim administration and to U.S. presence on Afghan soil.

The arrests come just after the Karzai administration made a plea in Geneva for $422 million to rebuild the security forces, including the army and the national police.