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Taliban sends assassins to quell dissent

ASSASSINS linked to the Taliban government of Afghanistan are attacking enemies of the hardline Islamic regime who have sought sanctuary abroad.

Gangs of gunmen commissioned by the movement are blamed for the deaths of at least four prominent opposition figures in recent months. Dozens of other enemies of the regime - often intellectuals or human rights campaigners - have been intimidated or harassed.

The most recent attack was in Mastung, south-west Pakistan. Mullah Sorkatib - a senior commander in a rival faction who fled Afghanistan two years ago - was seriously wounded in the jaw and arm and his personal guard was killed when four men, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, forced their way into his home.

Local police said last week they had arrested one of Sorkatib's attackers, who claimed that the group had been commissioned by a senior figure in the Taliban. They were to receive 250,000 rupees (pounds 3,300) each if they were successful, the man said. The Taliban has strongly denied any involvement.

Last month another squad of gunmen shot dead a leading campaigner for democracy in Afghanistan in a bazaar in the western Pakistani city of Peshawar. Mohammed Hashim Paktyanai had organised a meeting of dissidents to mark the anniversary of the death of the former Afghan president Najibullah, who was killed by the Taliban two years ago. Paktyanai's family said he had been receiving death threats for some time.

Two other opponents of the Taliban - both connected with the Communist regime that ruled Afghanistan in the Eighties - have been shot and killed in recent months in Quetta, a city in south-west Pakistan. One, Nazar Mohammed, 65, was the head and founder of the Movement for Peace in Afghanistan, which he claimed had more than 100,000 members around the world.

There has also been a string of attacks on intellectuals and women's rights activists in Peshawar.

Observers say the attacks are part of a general crackdown by the Taliban - which controls 90 per cent of Afghanistan - on ideological opponents, inside and outside the country. Several hundred dissidents alleged to be planning a coup were jailed in October.

Though the Taliban is supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, many other regional powers - including Iran - are working hard to destabilise the regime.