Afghan talks 'agree first step'
Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 01:37 GMT BBC News
Despite signs of progress, obstacles remain
Two key parties at UN-sponsored talks on Afghanistan's future have agreed on the first step towards setting up a broad-based government, officials said.
The Northern Alliance, the largest delegation, was reported to have agreed with supporters of Afghanistan's former king Zahir Shah to set up an interim council, charged with naming a provisional government for the country.
We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place
An aide to Younis Qanooni, head of the alliance delegation, told Reuters news agency that the two sides had agreed to set up the council and that its size and membership would be discussed on Thursday.
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge said the two sides were still talking about principles, and details had yet to be tabled.
There is also no sign of agreement on a multinational security force being sent to the country, after the Northern Alliance repeated its view there was no need for such a force.
Diplomats hope the interim council will be the first step towards setting up a broad based government for Afghanistan.
The council, expected to have between 120 and 200 members from different groups, could also pave the way for elections in about two years time.
The Northern Alliance official warned, however, that the discussions would be difficult, as the groups had to decide on names for the council, who to appoint as its head, and for how long it should hold power before a grand assembly -or loya jirga - is held.
In other developments:
Red Cross officials start to remove the bodies of Taleban prisoners killed during a three day revolt at Qala-e-Jhangi fort
The United States confirms that CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed in the uprising - the first known US fatality of the war
Bundles of US humanitarian relief supplies air-dropped over Afghanistan hit a house, killing a woman and child, the Pentagon said
Transport companies in Herat say they have suspended operations between the city and Kabul, because of American air attacks on trucks along the route
There have been intense negotiations since the talks started on Tuesday, with some of the strongest debate centring on the issue of any international peace-keeping force.
The anti-Taleban Northern Alliance is holding out on the proposal.
"We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place," said Mr Qanooni.
Clearly we want a stabilising force seen as neutral
UN envoy Francesc Vendrell
However the UN - and the other three Afghan factions taking part in the talks near the former German capital Bonn - want all parties to agree on an international "stabilisation force".
UN envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell said it was "very important" to reach agreement on such a force at the talks.
"Clearly we want a stabilising force seen as neutral," he told the BBC.
More than 7.5 million Afghans require urgent aid
Mr Qanooni later conceded that the Alliance might be prepared to drop its objections at a future date, although extra security should still be provided by Afghans.
"Perhaps in principle it could be part of a comprehensive peace package," he told a news conference.
On the second day of talks, Mr Vendrell had warned that a full agreement on Afghanistan's future might not be reached.
However he said there were signs that many delegates agreed former king Zahir Shah should play a political role, possibly as head of a transitional government.
The BBC's Philippa Thomas, covering the talks, said the Northern Alliance might go along with such a role for the ex-king, but the group was not pressing for him to be included in a transitional administration.
Another tough issue is who will control the capital, Kabul.
The capital is now under Northern Alliance control, but other factions would prefer a multinational force.
US President George W Bush and the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, meanwhile, stressed the need to improve security in Afghanistan and enable aid distribution.
Speaking in Washington where the two men held talks, Mr Annan said that up to 7.5 million Afghans needed help.
He said the lack of security was still hindering food deliveries inside Afghanistan, although getting food into the country was no longer the biggest problem.
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