President has no role say Islamist victors

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Agencies - Afghanistan's new rulers, the Taliban, said yesterday that it would soon set up a government to run the country according to Islam and ruled out a role for the ousted leadership.

The state-run Radio Pakistan quoted Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, head of a new governing council, as ruling out any role for ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Prime Minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and their top military commander, Ahmad Shah Masood. "These people are not acceptable to the nation," he was quoted as saying.

After taking Kabul, the capital, on Friday, the Islamic militia has paused in its pursuit of forces loyal to the ousted president, who were apparently regrouping in the Panjshir Valley north of the city.

Pakistan, which has repeatedly denied accusations of backing the Taliban, appeared to signal its recognition of the new government by sending a delegation to Kabul on Friday. Two Pakistan foreign ministry officials held talks with Taliban leaders in Kabul yesterday and discussed reopening the Pakistan embassy, wrecked by anti-Pakistan protesters a year ago.

Other countries were more cautious. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, urged groups in Afghanistan to share power and avoid outside interference. Shi'ite Iran has supported the ousted Kabul government and is hostile to the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban, which Iranian media allege is manipulated by Pakistan and the United States.

China voiced concern about the fighting but did not respond directly to the Taliban's appeal for international recognition. "China and Afghanistan are close neighbours," the Foreign Ministry said. "China expresses its concern about the situation of fighting in Afghanistan."

The UN expressed "grave concern" about the military confrontation, called for an immediate end to the fighting and asked all Afghan leaders to engage in dialogue.

Norbert Holl, the UN special envoy, said after meeting Mullah Rabbani and the Taliban governing council at the presidential palace: "My main message was an offer that the United Nations wants to continue the political dialogue and cooperation with Taliban."

Mullah Rabbani said talks would be held with the northern warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum and outstanding matters settled by negotiations. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had arranged a convoy of food and medical supplies in Pakistan to be sent to Kabul. The convoy of 35 lorries was ready and likely to leave for Kabul today, from the north-western Pakistani town of Peshawar.