UN OFFICIAL SAYS AFGHAN GROUPS WILLING TO HOLD TALKS

The United Nations is well on the way to hosting an Afghan assembly in late April as a prelude to ending 13 years of civil war, a senior UN official said yesterday.

"We are satisfied that we are on the way to achieving the [UN] secretary-general's intention to host an Afghan gathering," Benon Sevan, personal representative of UN chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali, told a news conference.

He said the vast majority of the Afghan factions were in favour of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's idea of holding an initial gathering - dubbed an Ijlas - of 150 Afghans, probably in Geneva or Vienna in the second half of April.

This would be followed by a wider gathering - a Buzurg - in June or July to install a transitional Islamic government.

Diplomats said a lot of work remained to be done to get the operation off the ground, particularly on who would be allowed to attend. Some fundamentalist Muslim guerrilla leaders were overtly opposed to the plan.

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