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Afghan rebels capture Jalalabad

By ANWAR IQBAL

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Afghanistan's second largest city fell to mujahideen rebels Sunday, leaving the capital Kabul as the only major Afghan city still under the government control, reports said.

The rebel-controlled Afghan Islamic Press Agency, run by the Younus Khalis group of Hizbe Islami Party, reported that 'Jalalabad city, capital of the Ningarhar province of Afghanistan has fallen to the mujahideen.'

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Two other mujahideen news agencies confirmed the report.

Meanwhile, hopes continued to fade for a United Nations peace plan calling for an interim ruling council of warring factions.

Pakistani officials announced in frustration Sunday that they had decided to abandon efforts to form a consensus council of mujahideen factions and might simply send to Kabul a body of those willing to accept the U.N. efforts to restore peace.

Jalalabad, about 40 miles north of the Pakistani border, successfully resisted rebel attacks for the last 13 years until the latest assault.

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In 1989, soon after the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan, the mujahideen launched a unified attack on the city and captured its garrison, only to be ousted later by the Afghan army.

In a congratulatory message to his soldiers, Khalis appealed to them not to 'disturb those who surrendered to you,' and to 'give Islamic mercy to children, women, old people and everyone who joins you.'

This strategy seemed different from the one Mujahideen adopted in 1989 after the fall of the Jalalabad garrison, when they massacred hundreds of soldiers who had surrendered.

Reports also said the Sarubi district near Kabul fell to rebels Sunday morning.

By taking Sarubi, east of the Afghan capital, mujahideen rebels had virtually cut off Kabul.

Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masoud controls the northern route to Kabul while Gulbadin Hekmatyar of Hizbe Islami controls the southern route.

'Now the fall of Kabul is imminent,' said a spokesman for theHekmatyar group.

Meanwhile, in the absence of verified reports from Kabul, the city of Peshawar was bubbling with rumors about the rapidly changing political situation.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew late Saturday to Peshawar, the home of half the 3 million Afghan refugees, and held all-night negotiations with representatives of the 12 mujahideen factions there. Only five would agree to join the ruling council.

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The idea of the council was proposed before Najibullah was stripped of his powers last week for attempting to flee the country without consulting other officials of his ruling Homeland Party and his military generals.

Najibullah had offered to hand over power to the council to speed the start of the U.N. peace process, which calls for a select assembly of Afghans to meet and elect a transition government that would prepare for democratic elections.

Mujahideen guerrillas have been fighting the leftist government in Afghanistan since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded to prop up a Moscow-backed regime. The Kabul government continued in power under Najibullah despite predictions it would fall as soon as the Soviet Union withdrew its troops in 1989.

The country appeared to be headed toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict until Najibullah tried to flee the country Thursday. He apparently panicked after mujahideen captured the government's largest military air base and a major city just north of Kabul.

Najibullah has been in hiding in the Afghan capital since Thursday, when a group of his own military officers sympathetic to Masoud refused to allow himto board an aircraft to flee the country. He reportedly is hiding in a U.N. office in Kabul.

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The failure of mujahideen political leaders to reach a compromise on a ruling council increased the likelihood of a conflict between rival militia groups converging on the Afghan capital in the wake of Najibullah's ouster.

Soldiers sent by Masoud and his northern ally, Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostum, have arrived in Kabul to help reinforce the southern approach to the city against attack by approaching forces led by Hekmatyar, who joined his troops Friday and has vowed to take the capital.

Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami and two allied groups said they would agree to be part of Masoud's proposed military council, but they refused to grant political power to such a council unless the membership of two representatives per party was reapportioned.

One Shiite group based in Iran also opposed the proposed structure of the council, saying more Shiites should be members to protect the rights of minority Shiites against encroachment by Afghanistan's larger Islamic group, the Sunnis.

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