Taleban leader warns Iran of ``serious steps''
02:48 p.m Oct 05, 1998 Eastern
By Andrew Hill
ISLAMABAD, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The Taleban's supreme leader told Iran on Monday that no foreign power had ever subdued Afghanistan and vowed to take ``serious steps'' if Tehran ``interfered.''
Mullah Mohammad Omar's hardline statement was broadcast on the Taleban's Shariat radio as a U.N. envoy held talks with Iranian leaders to try to defuse a war of words between the radical Sunni Moslem militia and its predominantly Shi'ite neighbour.
``If this (Iranian) interference continues, then our people would take serious steps,'' the radio, monitored in Pakistan, quoted Omar as saying in a statement.
Lakhadar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, was sent to the region by foreign ministers of a ``six plus two'' contact group of Afghanistan's neighbours plus Russia and the United States to try to cool the row, which began last month.
After earlier talks in Abu Dhabi with Brahimi, Wakil Ahmed, a senior Taleban official, said the militia did not want war with neighbouring Iran and was looking forward to hearing Tehran's views on ways to ease tensions.
``The war, if it happened, God forbid, would not be in the interest of either Iran or Afghanistan,'' Ahmed told reporters in Abu Dhabi. ``I do not think there will be a war.''
``We have met Lakhdar Brahimi in Abu Dhabi by chance (and talked about) the crisis. But the real talks would be when he returns from Tehran,'' Ahmed said.
Iran massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders after nine Iranian diplomats went missing and were later found killed when the Taleban overran the opposition bastion of Mazar-i-Sharif in a summer campaign to tighten its grip on the country.
Omar said the nine Iranians were conducting ``espionage'' and added: ``Iran interferes in our internal affairs blatantly and we have and reserve the right to take measures against it.''
The Taleban leadership has acknowledged that its fighters killed the Iranians and has promised to catch and punish those responsible but refuses Iran's request that it make a public apology and hand over the killers.
The Taleban have accused Iran of numerous violations of its air space and of arming and supplying its opposition foes, most of which have been routed in a campaign that has increased the Taleban's control of the country to around 95 per cent.
Iran has accused the Taleban of ethnic reprisals against minority Shi'ites of the Hazara ethnic group in its takeover of opposition areas in the centre and north of the country.
Omar repeated the Taleban's demand that it be recognised as the legitimate government in Kabul by virtue of the spread of its control and its imposition of strict Islamic law after years of anarchy and factional warfare.
``When a government brings stability and peace, then its recognition should be automatic,'' said Omar, whose administration is recognised only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.N. seat is occupied by Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose government was toppled when the Taleban, which comes from the southern Pashtun ethnic group, seized power in 1996.
Ahmed said the Taleban had asked Brahimi to travel to Kabul, but he refused, saying he had not been authorised to do so.
A U.N. travel ban imposed for security reasons prevents any visit to Afghanistan.
The Taleban spokesman said he was in the UAE for talks on the situation in Afghanistan. On Monday he met Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamdan bin Zaid al-Nahayan to convey a verbal message from Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to UAE President Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan.
The U.N. pulled out of Afghanistan in August after one of its Italian military staff was shot dead in a Kabul street and wants security guarantees and improved working conditions for the resumption of a major relief operation.
Most private aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan earlier that month after a row with the Taleban, who wanted the predominantly Western agencies to live in a derelict college and to pay the million dollars required for its rennovation.
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