City defies order to surrender weapons

The thud of rockets reverberated throughout Mazar- i-Sharif yesterday as residents of this newly captured desert city defied orders from the Taliban religious army to disarm.

The fighting began in the Shia Muslim neighbourhood of Saeedabad, where three Taliban soldiers were killed, and quickly spread throughout the city.

By dusk, a major battle was raging. Rockets slammed into buildings. People scrambled for cover as small-arms fire raged.

It was not clear who was fighting whom, or whether there had been a collapse in the uneasy alliance between the Taliban and its ethnic Uzbek allies who helped the Taliban seize the northern provinces over the weekend. The capture of territory once held by warlord Rashid Dostum gave the Taliban control of nearly all of Afghanistan. There was no immediate information on casualties.

Tanks and huge trucks with multiple rocket launchers headed toward Saeedabad. The roar of heavy machine-gun fire ripped through the night air. Residents bunkered down inside their homes and international aid groups asked their workers to stay indoors.

Earlier yesterday, brawls erupted as Taliban troops tried to disarm soldiers loyal to Malik Pahlawan, the Uzbek general who led a revolt last week that overthrew Dostum - who fled to Turkey. Residents opened fire, killing three Taliban soldiers.