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Several People Killed in Fighting Between Rival Afghan Commanders - 2002-05-01

In Afghanistan, fighting flared between two rival commanders near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif Wednesday. The Afghan Defense Ministry said several people were killed in the clashes before the fighting subsided.

The Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said the fighting erupted following a parade Tuesday in the towns of Shulgara and Sare Pul, 100 kilometers south of Mazar-e-Sharif. They said the fighting was between supporters of two longtime rivals, Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum and General Atta Mohammed.

A delegation has been sent from Kabul to try to ease the tensions. General Atta Mohammed and allies of his Tajik ethnic group reportedly have been pressuring General Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, to withdraw from the area. Clashes between the two sides earlier this year killed dozens of people.

The clashes follow fighting Saturday between two rival leaders in Gardez, 100 kilometers south of Kabul, in which at least 25 people were killed and 65 were wounded.

Paktia Province Governor Taj Mohammed Wardak told VOA in Gardez that supporters of former governor Padshah Khan Zadran hit the city with hundreds of rockets causing considerable damage. He said he has given an ultimatum to Mr. Padsha Khan to surrender or face attack.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah Wednesday called the recent incidents a cause for concern, as the country prepares to elect a grand national council, or Loya Jirga, that next month will choose a transitional government.

"Perhaps the enemies of peace will try to make their [greatest] efforts prior to the Loya Jirga. We should be prepared for it. But we should not be panicked. But it should add to our resolve that we should put an end to whatever remains of the forces of insecurity and instability in the country, with the help of the international community," Mr. Abdullah said.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reports that international coalition troops have launched an operation east of Gardez against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The U.S. Defense Department and Pakistani government this week confirmed media reports that a small number of U.S. special forces are in Pakistan assisting Pakistani troops that are pursuing Taliban and al-Qaida forces there.