Afghan ex-king hopes Berlin talks will heal splits
ROME, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Former king Zahir Shah will send a strong delegation to U.N.-sponsored talks on Afghanistan's future next week and might include a woman in its ranks, a senior aide to the exiled leader said on Wednesday.
The 87-year-old monarch considers the meeting an important step towards a new administration in Kabul and expects it will be able to overcome whatever differences exist among Afghan groups, Hamid Sidig said.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's ousted president and head of the Northern Alliance that now controls Kabul, appeared to dampen expectations on Tuesday by saying the meeting in Berlin would be mostly symbolic.
"A high-ranking delegation will be there," Sidig said, adding the king would send about a dozen representatives led by his advisor Abdul Sattar Sirat and could include a woman.
"Women have always played an important part in Afghan society," he said, underlining the difference between the moderate king and the fundamentalist Taliban leaders who barred females from school and work during their five years in power.
"We hope that it will be a beginning, it is a start it's a good step in the direction and we hope we can achieve more than expected," he said.
Asked about cooperating with the Northern Alliance, which has said Zahir Shah can only return to Afghanistan as a simple citizen, Sidig said: "Even if there are some small difficulties and problems we are going to be able to solve this.
"We are going to sit down together and talk about the crisis in Afghanistan and about the problem and future of Afghanistan. We hope that we can find some solution.
"This is a serious meeting," he added. Sidig said Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in Rome since 1973, hoped to be able to return to Kabul soon but would have to wait until the time was right politically.
Aides have said Zahir Shah has made his return dependent on the start of the kind of broad-based administration that the Berlin meeting -- which is expected to last about a week -- is due to discuss.
Zahir Shah is a father figure to many Afghans and could use that position to help unite the country's many ethnic groups and tribes behind a single administration, aides say.
Sidig also expressed the ex-monarch's sorrow at the killing on Monday of four international journalists, including Reuters cameraman Harry Burton and photographer Azizullah Haidari, who were ambushed on a mountain road east of Kabul.
"His Majesty the former king passes on his deepest condolences from himself and from all of his assistants to the families and the whole international community of journalists," he said.
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