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Student army ultimatum to Kabul

FROM Peter Greste

of Reuters

Kabul - An Islamic student militia that has swept to the gates of Kabul told the Afghan government to pull its troops back to their old front lines around the city by yesterday evening.

"If they do not, our shura (council) will decide what to do," said Mamour Jah, a commander of the Taliban militia, at Charasyab, which the militia captured from the main opposition leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, on Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment from the government and as the deadline passed it was not clear whether it had complied. Reporters returning from Charasyab saw government troops in tanks moving towards old front lines around the fort of Bala Hisar inside the city.

After Mr Hekmatyar fled his former headquarters at Charasyab, nine miles south of Kabul, forces allied to President Burhanuddin Rabbani moved into frontline positions formerly held by Mr Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami group. The Taliban, whose weakening of the once formidable Hizbe Islami has upset the balance of power, have not yet made clear if they plan to attack the capital.

Kabul residents ventured out and shops reopened yesterday but many people said they were nervous about a possible clash between the government and Taliban. "I don't think the Taliban came all this way to stop at the gates of the capital," said one man stocking up with flour.

The Taliban burst on to the scene in October when they rescued a Central Asia-bound Pakistani truck convoy from Afghan commanders in the province of Kandahar. They went on to capture the city of Kandahar, then took control of half a dozen provinces inhabited by Pathans, one of Afghan istan's main ethnic groups.

The Taliban - meaning "religious students" - say they want to sweep away the mujahedin factions tearing at the carcass of the Afghan state and replace them with a purist Islamic regime.

"Our only victory will be when we get a true Islamic state for Afghanistan," said Mamour Jah on Tuesday. "We are for a united and uniform administration."