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New Soviet Ambassador to Afghanistan; Defectors Criticize Afghan Military

October 14, 1988

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The Soviet Union named as new ambassador to Kabul its first deputy foreign minister, Yuli Vorontsov, an Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

The appointment of such a high-level official appeared designed to emphasize the importance the Soviet Union continues to place on Afghanistan, despite withdrawing its troops, Western diplomats said.

″It puts a guy with a great deal of clout here to show how much they support the place,″ one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, when asked why Moscow had chosen someone of such high rank, said it meant Afghanistan was an important country. Under briefing rules, the spokesman is not identified.

The spokesman also denied claims made in neighboring Pakistan that the Moslem guerrillas battling Afghan government troops shot down five Afghan air force planes and helicopters last week.

Pakistan is headquarters for the U.S.-supported guerrillas.

Vorontsov will replace Nicholai Igorytchev, a member of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee, whose departure appeared quite abrupt.

Igorytchev’s farewell reception took place at midday today, barely 24 hours after the invitations were received at other diplomatic missions in Kabul. Such invitations are usually sent out about two weeks in advance.

The appointment of a new Soviet ambassador comes at a time when both Moscow and the Soviet-style government in Kabul have been stepping up diplomatic pressure to end the civil war.

Under an accord signed in Geneva on April 14, the Soviet Union is to complete the pullout of its troops from Afghanistan by next Feb. 15. The withdrawal started May 15 and is now at the halfway point, with an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Soviet soldiers remaining.

Soviet forces intervened in Afghanistan in December 1979.

Meanwhile in Peshawar, Pakistan, seven Afghan army defectors criticized the Afghan military Thursday as weak and incapable of surviving without Soviet support.

The seven surrendered to Moslem guerrillas earlier this month during a siege of the northeastern garrison town of Asmar in the border province of Kunar. Asmar is now in the hands of the Moslem guerrillas, called mujahedeen.

Heavy fighting in the Kunar Valley in recent weeks has routed Afghan army troops from several heavily fortified garrisons. On Monday, the provincial capital of Asadabad fell to the rebels.

Noor Ahmad Nasrat, corps commander of the 9th division of the Afghan army said, ″The majority of the military support the mujahedeen but because of pressure can’t come over to them.″

Nasrat, the highest ranking defector and self-appointed spokesman, said anti-personnel mines surround government garrisons to keep the government soldiers from leaving.

Update hourly