Taleban offers Iran talks on missing nationals
09:25 a.m. Sep 07, 1998 Eastern
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Sept 7 (Reuters) - The Taleban movement said on Monday that the situation along its border with Iran was calm but its fighters remained on alert after recent tension and a huge Iranian military build-up.
``There is no provocation or change; the siutation is calm throughout the border areas,'' Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the Taleban's senior spokesman told Reuters.
He repeated that the Islamic militia was ready to to hold unconditional talks with Iran about Iranian nationals held by the Taleban, the main cause of the sharp escalation of tension between mainly Sunni Afghanistan and Shi'ite Iran.
The Pakistani government called on Iran and Afghanistan to exercise the ``utmost restraint'' and to take steps to defuse tension.
A statement by the cabinet defence committee, which groups civilian and military leaders, urged the two countries, ``with whom Pakistan has close brotherly ties'' to ``take steps to calm the situation,'' the official APP news agency reported.
Muttawakil's language was less bellicose than that of Taleban officials in recent days when they accused Iran of preparing to invade in a row over Iranian diplomats and nationals missing for a month in northern Afghanistan.
But Muttawakil said Taleban troops remained on alert in southwestern Nimroz and Herat provinces on the Iranian border in case of any incursion.
``We have got people still on alert for a possible provocation or fighting,'' Muttawakil added.
The movement has rushed reinforcements to the provinces and armed local civilians at the weekend, a step without precedent for the Taleban.
The Taleban says it has no information on the whereabouts of Iranian diplomats missing from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that it captured from opposition factions last month.
But the movement says it cannot rule out that the 10 diplomats and a journalist were killed during the fighting.
Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayotollah Ali Khameini, at the weekend ruled out any military confrontation with the Taleban.
A foreign ministry spokesman in the Iranian capital said Tehran would use diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis over missing nationals and said the Taleban had promised clarification within a week.
The Iranians went missing in a Taleban drive to extend its control over the whole of Afghanistan and boost its claims to be the legal government in Kabul.
Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognise the Taleban government.
Iran has been a vocal supporter of the administration of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government the Taleban ousted from Kabul when it captured the capital in September 1996.
The Taleban accuse Tehran of providing military support to the opposition alliance, an accusation the Iranians deny, while the opposition says the Taleban is armed by Sunni Pakistan, a charge the Islamabad government also rejects.
Iran said on Saturday that it had the right under international law to take all necessary action against the Taleban to recover the missing men.
Some 70,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, paratroopers and commandos have been exercising close to the Afghan border.
There have been reports from the human rights group Amnesty International that thousands of people from Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority, which is also Shi'ite, were killed when Mazar-i-Sharif was taken by the Taleban on August 8.
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