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Afghans Seek Religious Definition

April 28, 1998

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ After hours of closed-door negotiations, feuding Afghan factions came up with two new proposals Tuesday to end two decades of war in Afghanistan.

Talks had been deadlocked because neither side could agree on who qualifies as religious scholar, or ulema. The question is a critical one for the warring factions, who have agreed to let a commission of ulema rule their war-ravaged homeland.

Negotiators for the Taliban religious army, which rules 85 percent of the country with a strict interpretation of Islam, said the definition of a religious scholar had been settled, but did not elaborate.

Outside on the sprawling lawns of the marble Punjab House, where talks have been held for the past three days, Ibrahim Bakr, the deputy secretary of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said two new peace proposals have been introduced.

``We have two new proposals and they will be discussed tomorrow and we have agreed not to say anything about them until they are discussed,″ he told reporters.

The United Nations and the OIC are co-sponsors of the first face-to-face talks between Afghanistan’s warring factions since the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital of Kabul in 1996.

The two sides made some progress earlier when they agreed to try to extend a cease-fire agreement. While no formal commitments were made, the deadliest front line 20 miles north of Kabul was quiet Tuesday.

The Taliban army have banned women from the work force, closed schools for girls and forced women to wear the all-enveloping burqua. They also have required men to grow beards and pray in the mosque.

A divided anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan has been wracked by ferocious infighting, much of it between troops loyal to Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and Shiite Muslims belonging to Hezb-e-Wahadat.

Lawlessness in the area has made it impossible for international aid organizations to remain.

The United Nations is hoping that this round of negotiations will result in a prolonged cease-fire and more peace talks.

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