Afghan Taleban Protests At Uzbek Air "Violations"

via Reuters

Islamabad, Pakistan - Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement on Thursday wrote to the United Nations protesting against alleged violations of its airspace by neighbouring Uzbekistan, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service reported.

A Taleban foreign ministry letter delivered by its embassy in Islamabad to the U.N. office in the Pakistani capital drew U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's attention to the violations, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said. It quoted the protest letter as saying Uzbekistan would be responsible for ``dangerous consequences'' if violations continued.

AIP reported on Wednesday that five Uzbek jets had violated the Afghan airspace three times in two days -- twice on Tuesday morning and once on Wednesday.

It said the Taleban confirmed that the aircraft had taken off from Termez in southern Uzbekistan and violated the airspace north of the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The reports of the incidents follow repeated threats by Russia in the past week that it could launch preventive air strikes on Afghanistan if the Taleban continued to help Chechen rebels.

Russian officials say the rebels from the breakaway republic of Chechnya and Islamic fundamentalist groups from former Soviet Central Asian states receive military training in Afghanistan, charges denied by the Taleban, which has said it would take unspecified action if Russia resorts to an attack.

The Taleban has also warned Moscow that it would hold neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both former Soviet republics, responsible for any Russian military action against about 90 percent of Afghanistan it controls. An anti-Taleban alliance, which controls the remaining 10 percent of Afghanistan, said on Wednesday that any Russian air strikes to punish the Taleban for allegedly training Chechen rebels would not eliminate what it called ``terrorist'' activities.

An alliance statement called for more U.N. pressure on the Taleban, which is the only government to recognise Chechnya as a country but which denies running any Chechen training camps. The opposition statement said any Russian air strikes would be as ineffective as the 1998 U.S. cruise missile strikes on alleged camps in southeastern Afghanistan run by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, wanted by the United States for allegedly masterminding the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed more than 200 people, was not hurt in the attacks and the Taleban has refused repeated U.S. requests to expel him.

The statement said the U.N. Security Council should take ``further'' measures against the Taleban for harbouring bin Laden after last November's aviation and financial sanctions. An opposition official said further pressure could be put on the Taleban by banning fuel exports to Afghanistan. Russian officials have said rebels from Chechnya and Islamic fundamentalist groups from Central Asia receive military training in Afghanistan, charges denied by the Taleban, which has threatened to take unspecified action if Russia attacks. The statement said the opposition alliance, which the Taleban ousted from power more than three years ago, was alarmed by the latest deterioration of the situation in and around Afghanistan. Although Russian officials have issued warnings to the Taleban, they have been careful to rule out a repeat of the Soviet Union's disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

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