Russia accused of Afghan attack

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The Independent Online
AFGHANISTAN accused Russian troops of an artillery attack yesterday on a village across the border from Tajikistan in which eight people were killed and many injured, the official Kabul Radio reported. The Afghan people were concerned about the presence of foreign forces on their borders, the radio said.

It called for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from the border and rejected Russian accusations that Afghan fighters were involved in increasingly bloody incursions into Tajikistan.

The accusation came as the Russian army said in Moscow it was ready to punish Tajik rebels for an attack on its border troops by launching a combat operation, if necessary beyond the frontier of the former Soviet Union and into Afghanistan.

After receiving permission from both President Boris Yeltsin and parliament in Moscow, the Russian Deputy Defence Minister, Konstantin Kobets, said: 'We know that (rebel) bases, depots and artillery are situated on Afghan territory. We don't say we are going to strike at Afghan territory. We are going to strike at any object in the combat zone.'

The army daily, Krasnaya Zvezda, argued that any attack would not be an act of Russian aggression but one of justified self-defence. 'The United States considered it possible to punish Iraq just for criminal designs,' it said. 'Isn't it time to show the whole world how highly we value the lives of our soldiers?'

The Islamic rebels, who fled to Afghanistan after losing the civil war in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan last year, launched an artillery attack on the border area earlier this week. Some 200 Tajik villagers were killed as well as 25 Russian soldiers from the 3,500-strong frontier force that Moscow supplies under an agreement with the leadership of Imamali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe.