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Afghans Protest Iran Troop Buildup

September 20, 1998

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP)_ An estimated 10,000 Afghans chanting anti-Iranian slogans staged a rally in the eastern town of Khost on Sunday to protest Tehran’s massive troop buildup on the Afghan frontier, Kabul radio reported.

Iran has deployed about 200,000 troops on its border with western Afghanistan in a showdown with the Taliban religious army over the murder of Iranian diplomats when its forces seized the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif last month.

The Afghani demonstrators demanded that Iran pull back its forces, and vowed to turn out in defense of their country should Iran launch an attack on Afghanistan, Taliban-controlled Kabul radio reported. The protesters also shouted slogans condemning Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

The Taliban has claimed renegade soldiers, acting without orders, murdered eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist based at the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif when the city fell to the religious army on Aug. 8.

The Taliban, which controls at least 90 percent of Afghanistan, has promised to track down and punish the killers. However, it refuses to extradite any suspects to Iran, and rejected Tehran’s demands for a public apology.

Iran has staged military maneuvers on an unprecedented scale on the Afghan border, amid a growing demands for vengeance by mobs of Iranian demonstrators, egged on by the Iranian news media.

In bids to avert a conflict, the Taliban has returned the bodies of seven of the murdered Iranians to Tehran, and has released 10 of at least 50 Iranian captives held in Afghanistan.

Heavily Shiite Muslim Iran has accused the Taliban, mainly made up of members of the rival Sunni Muslim sect, of massacring Shiites in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders have denied the allegations, and accuse Iran of supporting a northern alliance of anti-Taliban forces that still controls a tiny portion of Afghanistan.

According to Kabul Radio, local tribal leaders claimed twelve thousand volunteers were ready to defend the country. The Taliban has said it already has 10,000 religious warriors on the Iranian border.

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