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Sunday, April 26, 1998 Published at 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK

World: S/W Asia

Afghan peace talks go ahead

A Taleban fighter with a missile launcher on the front line

The warring sides in Afghanistan have opened peace talks in Pakistan, to try to pave the way to a ceasefire.

It is their second formal meeting since the Taleban won control of much of Afghanistan two years ago, fiercely opposed by the government it drove out of the capital Kabul.

There has been some uncertainty about the agenda. While the participants themselves will make the final decisions, officials say that at this stage it does include the selection of Islamic scholars for further talks, a possible ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners.

[ image: The belated arrival of the Taleban delegation at Islamabad Airport]
The belated arrival of the Taleban delegation at Islamabad Airport
Earlier reports suggested that the Taleban wanted to concentrate solely on the selection of the religious scholars, who would then be mandated to discuss more substantive issues at a later stage.

Talks, hosted by Pakistan but held under the auspices of the United Nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, were to have begun on Saturday but for unspecified reasons the Taleban delegation did not arrive in Islamabad on time.

Correspondents say all those involved in the process say they are hopeful that it will produce results but most observers remain sceptical about the talks' chances of success.

Heaviest fighting for months

On the eve of the meeting, the heaviest fighting for several months broke out north of Kabul.

BBC correspondent in Kabul, William Reeve: "The front line has been quiet overnight" (0'59")
A spokesman for the anti-Taleban alliance, Doctor Abdullah, said the attack was launced by Taleban. He said about 50 Taleban fighters were killed and another 50 captured.

But the main Taleban spokesman in Kabul, Mullah Amir Khan Mottaqi, said it was the opposition who launched the attack and who sustained heavy casualties. He said only two Taleban were killed and about 10 injured.

Other reports speak of large numbers of wounded on both sides, but the front line has hardly moved.

During the visit to Afghanistan just over a week ago by the American ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, the warring parties promised they would launch no major offensives until the first round of peace talks was held.

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