Dozens die in Afghan fighting

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The Independent Online
KABUL - Bloody factional battles raged in two Afghan cities for a third day yesterday, leaving dozens dead and 870 injured in what a former Communist general said was a coup attempt against President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rockets, shells and mortar bombs pounded the capital, Kabul, at dawn after an overnight lull in the fighting between forces led by the northern warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam and Mr Rabbani's troops battling for supremacy in Afghanistan.

Plumes of smoke spiralled over the Afghan capital from rocket and artillery fire that battered residential areas of the city centre in the worst battles in Kabul for at least six months.

Mr Rabbani's spokesmen said a death-toll of 70 was a conservative estimate and the number of dead was likely to be much higher because the intensity of the firing was making it hard for families to take the wounded to hospitals.

Witnesses said they saw dozens of dead and injured trapped by the fighting in the Soviet-built Microrayon housing complex in the north of the capital where many families of General Dostam's men live.

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross reported three days of heavy fighting in General Dostam's powerbase in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif between his Uzbek militia and local Rabbani forces. One hospital run by the Red Cross in Mazar-e Sharif had admitted 70 injured, a Red Cross official said.

'We carried out the attack because we wanted to change the political system in Afghanistan,' said General Fauzi, a senior commander of General Dostam's troops in Kabul.

Neither side has made any attempt to begin peace talks.

The Defence Ministry spokesman, Yunis Qanuny, said Mr Rabbani's troops had captured Kabul Zoo, for months an important Dostam base, and were making advances against his militia, which was backed by the Hizbe Islami forces of Mr Rabbani's arch-foe, the Prime Minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

A survey of all the city's hospitals put the number of wounded admitted for treatment at more than 800. Most of the casualties were civilians with shrapnel wounds. Hospitals were running out of medical supplies and food, and the Red Cross said it would try to replenish provisions later in the day.

(Map omitted)