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Afghan peace talks open in Iran without Taliban

January 25, 1997

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Afghanistan’s warring factions began peace talks Saturday that have little hope of succeeding because the Taliban militia, which controls two-thirds of the country, is staying away.

The Taliban boycotted the talks to protest what it calls Iranian interference in Afghan affairs and because there was no chance of a cease-fire, said Mohammed Rabbani, head of the Taliban council running the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The Taliban drove former president Burhanuddin Rabbani out of Kabul in September. The ousted president and an envoy of northern warlord Rashid Dostum were at the talks, along with U.N., Pakistani and Turkish officials.

``Without the participation of all Afghan groups it will be difficult to achieve a negotiated settlement,″ said U.N. representative Norbert Holl.

The anti-Taliban alliance led by ousted Afghan defense chief Ahmed Shah Massood and Dostum wants a power-sharing agreement. The Taliban has refused.

``We only want to talk with Dostum and Massood if they first accept Taliban rule for all of Afghanistan,″ Mohammed Rabbani told The Associated Press in Kabul. ``Otherwise, it is not worth negotiating with them.″

Iran still recognizes Burhanuddin Rabbani as the president of Afghanistan and the Taliban accuses Iran of backing his forces.

Shiite Muslim Iran has criticized the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law on areas under its control. The Taliban, which adheres to the rival Sunni Muslim sect, forbids women to work and has closed girls’ schools.

Iran, home to about 1.5 million Afghan refugees, repeatedly has called on Afghan factions to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The Taliban also boycotted an Afghan peace conference held by Iran in October.

The Taliban is widely believed to be backed by Pakistan, although the government in Islamabad denies this and has tried to mediate an end to the fighting. Those U.N.-sponsored talks are to resume next month.

Afghanistan has been devastated by factional fighting since 1992, when rebels turned against each other after ousting the Soviet-backed government. Since then, 30,000 people have died in the fighting.

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