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Mortar Hits Afghan School, Kills Child

February 28, 2002

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A mortar shell slammed into a rural Afghan school Thursday as boys began lessons, killing one child and injuring dozens, officials said. British peacekeepers in the capital reported coming under fire for the third time in as many weeks.

In northern Afghanistan, tensions flared between rival warlords allied with the interim government. One threatened attack if his rival failed to pull back tanks and troops.

Amid the day’s sharp reminders of Afghanistan’s fragile peace, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to governments to extend the mandate of an 18-nation peacekeeping force beyond the coming summer. Annan warned the nation could quickly slide back into chaos.

``Our aim must always be to create a sustainable peace, just as we aim to achieve sustainable development,″ Annan told Germany’s parliament, citing world neglect after the 1980s’ Soviet occupation _ allowing the rise of warlords, Islamic militias and al-Qaida.

``Unhappily, that neglect is what typically happens to war-torn countries once they slip out of the headlines,″ Annan said.

The mortar attack hit a government-run boy’s school in Sarobi, about 40 miles east of Kabul, Interior Ministry official Mohammed Azimi said.

Boys were just settling in to morning lessons when a blast tore through the school, relatives told workers at a Kabul hospital, where 19 boys were being treated.

The blast blew a hole in the ceiling of one classroom, hospital administrator Rossella Miccio said. The explosion injured 30 boys as young as 8, the government and hospital said.

It was unclear whether the school was targeted or hit by mistake. Azimi said authorities did not know who fired the mortar, but accused Taliban and al-Qaida renegades.

``They fired the mortar intentionally,″ he said. Attackers ``want to sabotage the security and stability of this government of (Prime Minister) Hamid Karzai.″

The area is controlled by a warlord, Isatullah, a one-time Taliban ally who joined Afghanistan’s northern opposition alliance when it took Kabul in November. Like many Afghans, he uses one name.

In Kabul, international investigators also were searching for motives and culprits in Wednesday night’s firing upon peacekeepers. The lone gunman drew return fire but escaped.

``One gunman was seen firing, and then he was seen running away, and then he fired again,″ said Graham Dunlop, spokesman for the international force.

The shooting, like one on Feb. 20, occurred near the rocket-ruined Darulaman palace, a former residence of Afghanistan’s royalty.

The most serious shooting involving peacekeepers occurred Feb. 16, when British peacekeepers fired on a vehicle taking a pregnant woman to the hospital. The woman’s brother-in-law was killed.

The peacekeepers claimed they were returning fire. The woman denied their claim, and Afghanistan’s interim administration is investigating.

The British lead a peacekeeping contingent of 4,500 troops in Kabul. Their joint patrols with Afghans are meant to provide security in the capital. The United Nations is expected to decide by April whether to extend the peacekeeping force’s mandate past June.

In northern Afghanistan, meanwhile, tensions between rival commanders underscored the ethnic, turf and power struggles perpetually threatening the interim government.

Ethnic Tajik leader Atta Mohammed accused Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, of sending six tanks and dozens of troops into Shulgara, 50 miles southwest of the main northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Atta said he had demanded that Dostum’s local commander recall his troops to a Dostum-controlled barracks in the area. If an agreement was not reached peacefully, Atta warned, he might attack to force Dostum’s troops back.

``We are trying to solve it in a brotherly way,″ Atta told The Associated Press. ``But if we cannot, then we must defend our poor people in the village.″

Atta claimed Dostum’s troops were harassing Tajiks in the area. Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups live together in the district, which is controlled by Atta.

A spokesman for Dostum said he knew nothing of the allegation. Sporadic fighting between soldiers under the control of the two leaders has killed dozens of people in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, Atta and one of Dostum’s senior lieutenants signed a peace agreement in another northwestern village where fighting had killed at least six people.

In other developments:

_ The United Nations made its largest-ever annual appeal for Afghanistan. Donors in Tokyo last month pledged $4.5 billion over several years _ but the United Nations needs money immediately, not pledges, spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.

_ French President Jacques Chirac said France does not favor deploying international troops outside of Kabul, saying it would represent ``interference″ in Afghanistan. Karzai, visiting France, said the Afghan people badly want international troops deployed nationwide.

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