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Afghan Government Sends Troops to Control  Northwest Factional Violence - 2004-04-08

Afghanistan's transitional government is deploying troops in the country's northwest to stem an outbreak of factional fighting. The government intends to dislodge a local warlord from the important northern city of Maimana.

Deployment of units from the newly formed Afghan National Army comes in response to the seizure of Maimana by regional militia commander Abdul-Rashid Dostum.

General Dostum, the leader of the powerful Jumbesh-e Milli-e Islami movement, controls large tracts of territory across the ethnically Uzbek portions of northern Afghanistan.

Afghan sources say General Dostum moved his forces into Maimana after the local militia commander there broke from his alliance with Mr. Dostum's Jumbesh. But Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali says General Dostum's action violates the new constitution, as well as his militia's allegiance to the central government.

Jumbesh troops flooded into Maimana following angry demonstrations against the central government's appointed governor, who was later forced to flee his residence.

Mr. Jalali says the demonstrations were staged. "Those who staged demonstrations, they were deployed in advance in the area. These are the youth linked to Jumbesh," he said. "They were there from the beginning - it was part of the plan."

Mr. Dostum and his militia, based in the predominantly Uzbek city of Shirbigan, are technically under the command of Afghanistan's Defense Ministry.

But like many other powerful militia commanders, General Dostum is seen by many local observers as an autonomous warlord. His troops have engaged in clashes with rival militias in recent months.

In an effort to reign in the militias, the Afghan government and United Nations began a nationwide disarmament program last year. The program seeks to disband all semi-independent military forces in the country and replace them with new national army units.

While the effort has met with some limited success, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva says the current situation in Maimana shows the need to step up the process. "What this means really is that we need disarmament in this country. That is the bottom line," he said.

Factional fighting and an insurgency by fighters loyal to Afghanistan's former Taleban regime have slowed down preparations for elections to replace the current transitional government. The elections are scheduled for September.