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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 12:24 GMT
Afghan talks open in hope
Delegates at UN-sponsored talks in Germany on the future of Afghanistan
Delegates say the talks mark a historic turning-point
Delegates from rival Afghan factions attending landmark talks in Germany say they are optimistic that the meeting will mark the dawn of a new era of peace.

United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, read out a message from Secretary General, Kofi Annan, describing the UN-sponsored meeting in Koenigswinter, outside Bonn, as the beginning of a "new age" for the Afghan people.

He urged the Afghan factions not to repeat past mistakes, and to prove the sceptics wrong by choosing compromise over conflict.

But questions persist about how representative the conference is, especially of Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, from which the Taleban draw most of their support. The Taleban are not represented.

German police guarding the conference venue
Security is tight around the Petersberg hotel
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the delegates, representing four Afghan groups, that they shouldered a historic responsibility to bring peace to Afghanistan after years of war.

And he pledged continuing international support. "We want the people of Afghanistan to know that they will not be left on their own when the conflict with the al-Qaida terrorists and the Taleban regime comes to an end," he said.

In other developments:

  • US marines have gone into combat near the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar, destroying about 15 vehicles in a convoy near the airstrip where they landed
  • A Swedish television cameraman covering the conflict is killed by gunmen in the northern town of Taloqan
  • Four British soldiers, thought to belong to special forces, are wounded in the campaign
  • The UN food agency says it is concerned for the well-being of more than 200,000 people facing possible starvation in Kandahar
  • A revolt by Taleban prisoners in a fort outside Mazar-e-Sharif ends with all the insurgents believed dead

Grand opening

The BBC's Baqer Moin, one of the few journalists allowed into the talks, says it was a grand opening for a conference that is imbued with hope.

The UN hopes that the shape of an interim government will be hammered out at the talks, taking place in the palatial Petersberg government guesthouse overlooking the Rhine.

Baqer Moin says most delegates are very optimistic that the talks will bring about a transitional period for Afghanistan.

The head of the Northern Alliance delegation, Interior Minister Younus Qanooni, expressed the hope that the delegates would agree on a framework for a broad-based transitional government.

The leader of a Pashtun exile group based in Pakistan, Sayed Hamed Gailani, blamed foreign intervention for past failures to achieve peace and the lack of a concerted international effort.

And delegates from other Afghan groups said they were ready to work hard to achieve peace.

Four delegations are attending the meeting:

  • The Northern Alliance, the largest, which controls the Afghan capital Kabul. The alliance's military victories have largely overtaken the political process in recent weeks, and the strength of its commitment to share power is still untested
  • Zahir Shah's delegation. The former king, an ethnic Pashtun, is seen by some as a potential unifying figurehead in a nation of many different ethnic and linguistic groups
  • The Cyprus Group, made up of Afghan exiles, politicians and former mujahideen fighters believed to be close to Iran
  • The Peshawar Group, headed by Pakistan-backed Pashtun leader Pir Gailani, thought to support the former king

Click here for a guide to the key powerbrokers

Ethnic balance

The Northern Alliance says its delegation is "ethnically balanced" because it includes several members of the majority Pashtun community from which the Taleban draw most of their support.

Francesc Vendrell
UN envoy Francesc Vendrell warns not to expect too much
The alliance is dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

As a Pashtun, the ex-king could rally support among those most likely to lose out if the Northern Alliance emerges as the dominant force in an interim government.

But the BBC's Brian Hanrahan, at the talks, says that although Zahir Shah's delegation includes many Pashtuns, they live outside the country, and nobody is representing the Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan.

The Petersberg - a palatial hotel overlooking the Rhine outside Bonn - has been the site of many historic meetings.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler there just before the outbreak of the World War II.

Other famous guests have included the former shah of Iran, Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, and former US president Bill Clinton.


Before the talks opened, UN envoy Francesc Vendrell warned all parties not to expect too much.

Many diplomats and analysts remain pessimistic in the light of Afghanistan's history of shifting alliances, betrayals and tribal conflicts.

Our correspondent says it could take about a week before the outcome of the talks becomes clear.

The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft
"Those leading the talks said the solutions must be found by Afghans"
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
"Afghanistan has a great opportunity to win peace"
UN special representative, Lakdhar Brahimi
"You must not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated"
See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Tribal voices 'left unheard'
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
US hopeful before Afghan talks
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of exclusion
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