Controversy has surfaced at Afghanistan's constitutional assembly, as one delegate denounces some of her colleagues as "war criminals." But many members of the assembly see debate on the new constitution as proceeding smoothly.

After a relatively quiet start, commotion erupted briefly at the Afghan grand council, the loya jirga, charged with approving a new constitution for the war-ravaged nation.

As the members prepared to divide into working committees, Malalai Juya, representing the far western province of Farah, denounced some of her fellow delegates as "war criminals." In her speech, Ms. Juya said it is wrong that such people are taking part in the loya jirga.

Delegates say her remarks referred to various current and former military commanders who took part in the country's long civil war.

That conflict, which began more than a decade ago after the fall of the Soviet-backed communist government, cost thousands of lives and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.

Ms. Juya's words were greeted with anger by several of her supposed targets, including militia leader Abdul-Rasul Sayyaf. Some delegates demanded she be removed from the council.

Mr. Sayyaf said that commanders like himself had risked their lives to defeat the Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Although the exchange almost erupted into a physical scuffle, loya jirga chairman Sabghatullah Mujadidi said later the incident was nothing to worry about, saying that such arguments are part of the democratic process on which the loya jirga is based.

Delegate Khalid Pashtoon says the assembly has managed to create an open atmosphere. "The general environment of the loya jirga is pretty democratic. And people are free to talk about all the objections and all the concerns that they have," he said.

Mr. Pashtoon said that despite some differences among delegates on what kind of government Afghanistan should adopt, he believes the assembly will agree on a new constitution by late next week.

Others see the loya jirga requiring several more weeks before all the questions can be agreed to.