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Northern Alliance Drops Key Demand for Talks - 2001-11-18


The anti-Taleban Northern Alliance has dropped its demand that talks on forming a new Afghan government be held in the capital, Kabul.

Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says the opposition is ready to take part in the talks in Europe as early as this week. He made the remarks Sunday after meeting in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, with U-S envoy James Dobbins.

Mr. Abdullah mentioned Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as possible venues for a meeting on Afghanistan's political future.

He said the Northern Alliance supports the creation of a broad-based government, as demanded by the United States and United Nations. He said Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, would be welcome in such a government.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Russian officials has arrived in Kabul for talks with the Northern Alliance and former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was ousted by the Taleban. The team is the first foreign delegation to go to Kabul since the Taleban abandoned the city last Monday.

The talks are expected to focus on the shape of the new goverment and the possibility of Russia restoring its embassy in Kabul. Afghan fighters forced the withdrawal of troops of the former Soviet Union in 1989. Iran said Saturday that it intends to be the first country to reopen its embassy in the Afghan capital. U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell says Afghanistan needs a broad-based coalition government to avoid a repeat of past conflicts.

He also told Fox television that he believes terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, despite contradictory reports about his whereabouts from the Taleban. Mr. Powell says Osama bin Laden is finding it harder to hide as the Taleban loses control of more and more territory in Afghanistan.

Mr. Powell said the whole world regards Osama bin Laden as a murderer and outcast, and he said the fugitive will not find safe haven in any country bordering Afghanistan.

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