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Factional Fighting in Northern Afghanistan Must be Stopped, says UN Official - 2004-04-11

The United Nations says it remains concerned about sporadic fighting among local commanders in northern Afghanistan, following fresh reports of skirmishes near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says factional fighting in the north of the country has become endemic and must be stopped.

Local militia commanders, all with nominal ties to the central government's defense ministry, have engaged in numerous armed clashes in recent months.

Many observers describe the commanders as independent warlords, ruling over territory controlled by their own troops.

Speaking to reporters Sunday in the capital, Kabul, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said factional militia fighting is becoming a regular event in northern Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately, in the north, I think we are becoming used to a series of hiccups," he said. "You have skirmishes happening. But this is not normal. If you want a country to go back to the path of development, this series of skirmishes cannot be part of it."

The spokesman's remarks come amid reports of a clash Saturday night near the main northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, between forces of rival militia commanders Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammed.

Sources close to General Dostum told VOA that one militia soldier was killed and more than a dozen injured during the four-hour battle.

Witnesses say the fighting ended after General Atta's militia managed to push the Dostum forces out of the area.

Last week, General Dostum took control of the northwestern city of Maimana. He was later forced to leave after the central government said he had violated his commission, and deployed 500 troops from the newly-formed Afghan National Army to push him from the area.

The United Nations says the city is now mostly peaceful, despite a brief rock-throwing clash among pro-Dostum and anti-Dostum residents.

Generals Dostum and Atta, along with scores of other Afghan militia commanders, were given temporary commissions by the transitional government after the fall of the country's former Taleban regime in 2001.

The central government intends to disarm the militias as its new national army grows in force and is able to handle Afghanistan's security.

While many militia leaders have said they will comply with the disarmament program, some observers say recent fighting shows that the commanders are reluctant to relinquish their power.