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A key guerrilla commander called urgently Saturday for an interim coun

April 18, 1992

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A key guerrilla commander called urgently Saturday for an interim council to replace the crumbling government before rival rebel forces turn the capital into a battleground.

But even as rebel leader Ahmed Shah Masood made his appeal, fighters allied with the rival Hezb-i-Islami faction tightened their noose around Kabul. A spokesman said thousands of the Muslim fundamentalist fighters were poised on the southern edge of the city, and columns of tanks were moving from the north, west and east.

The two rebel groups also reported gains elsewhere in the country.

The government in Afghanistan has been crumbling since Thursday, when President Najibullah tried to flee the country and was stripped of his power.

Sporadic gunfire echoed through parts of Kabul on Saturday, and shopkeepers in the busy central bazaars quickly closed their shutters.

The weakened government, seen now as having little leverage, is trying to reach an accord with Masood, whose fighters have been told to form a protective ring around the city.

In an apparent gesture of reconciliation, state-run Kabul Radio announced Saturday night that 610 political prisoners had been released.

Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil, the government’s envoy in the talks with Masood, acknowledged Saturday that the session a day earlier had produced no accord, although he said they would keep negotiating.

In Pakistan, Masood’s spokesmen said the talks - the first publicly acknowledged negotiations by the government and the rebels - had centered on the ″safety of government officials″ - an apparent reference to Najibullah, who remained out of sight on Saturday.

He was believed to be in hiding in Kabul, and reportedly sought sanctuary at U.N. offices.

After he was caught trying to escape, Najibullah surrendered his presidential powers to a coalition of generals, civilian leaders and rebels.

But diplomatic and party sources say administrative power in Kabul now rests with two committees, one made up of military officers and the other of leading members of the Watan, or Homeland Party. They said the committees have been talking with the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Benon Sevan, about safe passage out of the country for Najibullah.

But party sources say some army and government officials want Najibullah tried. He headed the secret police from 1980 to 1986 and has been accused of torturing and killing thousands of political dissidents.

Members of Najibullah’s Ahmadzai tribe, one of Afghanistan’s fiercest and strongest, threatened Saturday to storm Kabul and rescue him. The bearded and turbaned tribal elders convened a traditional jirga, or council meeting, in Peshawar, Pakistan, to discuss a rescue - or revenge in the event he is killed, which would be a matter of tribal honor.

Wakil, who spoke to reporters in the cpaital, evaded all questions about the former president. ″The future of Najibullah should be decided by the Afghan people,″ he said.

Najibullah’s ouster followed a string of rebel victories and heightened fears of a bloody showdown in Kabul among rival insurgent factions. Afghanistan’s 14-year-old civil war has already left 2 million people dead.

Masood sent a message to the seven major resistance leaders based in Pakistan, urging them to form an interim government because ″the situation is getting out of control.″

The United States and other countries that supported the guerrillas’ war against successive Communist governments have urged the rebels to work out a peaceful settlement, but the guerrillas are bitterly divided along political and ethnic lines.

Hezb-i-Islami’s commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined his fighters near Kabul on Saturday, is a member of the Pashtun ethnic group, which has dominated Afghanistan for centuries. Hakmatyar has issued an ultimatum to the remnants of Najibullah’s government - surrender or his fighters will attack.

Masood’s Pakistan-based spokesman, Abdul Rahim, said Masood’s fighters and dissident soldiers who joined them had surrounded Kabul to protect it.

Elsewhere in the country, Masood’s Jamiat-e-Islami said Saturday it and dissident rebel troops had taken control of the provinces of Herat, which borders Iran, and Kunduz province, in northern Afghanistan.

Hezb-e-Islami, meanwhile, claimed it had seized Shindand air force base, the country’s second-largest air base, in western Afghanistan, and southwestern Helmand province bordering Pakistan. None of the claims could be independently verified.

Update hourly