At least fifty killed in Taliban clashes

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The Independent Online

At least 50 people died in gunbattles between the Taliban and another Islamist faction in north-eastern Afghanistan today.

The militants are apparently fighting for control of several villages where the central government has almost no presence.

Local police official Zalmai Mangal said the fighting in Baghlan province appeared to be a power struggle between local Taliban forces and the Hezb-e-Islami militia loyal to war lord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The fighting was continuing today, with militants using heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the governor of Baghlan province said.

Mangal, the province's deputy police chief, said reports from the area indicate that at least 50 militant fighters were dead, 35 from Hezb-e-Islami and 15 from the Taliban.

It was unclear what touched off the fighting, which erupted Saturday morning and continued late into the night, resuming Sunday, Mangal said. However, he said that Taliban fighters reportedly had moved into villages that traditionally were controlled by Hezb-e-Islami.

Provincial Governor Mohammad Akbar Barakzai also said that 50 militants were reported killed, though he did not have a breakdown of the casualties.

The fighting centred around five to six villages west of Baghlan-e-Jadid district in the central part of the province, Barakzai said.

"We don't know yet about casualties among civilians or damage to civilian houses," he said.

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