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Foe Advances, Afghan Rebels Concede

December 25, 1987|From Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Afghan guerrillas acknowledged Thursday that Soviet and Afghan government troops have advanced against guerrillas besieging the eastern town of Khost, but they denied a Soviet report of 1,500 guerrilla casualties.

Heavy fighting is continuing in the area, about 20 miles from the border with Pakistan, and the Soviet and Afghan troops involved in the offensive "have made some advance," a spokesman for the Pakistan-based Hezb-i-Islami guerrilla party said.

He described as inaccurate a statement Wednesday by a Soviet spokesman in Moscow that 1,500 rebels had been killed or wounded in the two-pronged push from Khost and Gardez, capital of Paktia province.

The spokesman said 41 guerrillas had been killed and slightly more than 50 wounded in the past month.

Main Guerrilla Group

The Hezb-i-Islami spokesman, whose party is the main guerrilla group fighting in Khost, had no figure for government casualties, but he said they should be many times those of the resistance forces, who have held the region around Khost for more than eight years while the town itself remained in government hands.

He said 10,000 to 15,000 civilians had fled the area to escape the latest fighting and several injured civilians and guerrillas had been brought to hospitals in Pakistan.

He added that the guerrillas had shot down four government planes and destroyed four more at Khost airfield. No independent confirmation of the report was available.

The latest offensive, which Moscow television said Saturday is led by Afghan army chief of staff Shahnawaz Tanai, is the biggest by Kabul since it launched a "national reconciliation" drive in January to end the nine-year-old war.

U.N. Mediator to Visit

It also comes on the eve of the eighth anniversary of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and a few weeks before a visit to the region by U.N. mediator Diego Cordovez.

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said Cordovez will arrive in Islamabad in the second half of January, and will also visit Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Since 1982, Cordovez has acted as an intermediary in indirect talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan on an Afghan peace settlement. His January trip is aimed at resolving differences between the two sides on a timetable for the withdrawal of the estimated 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is the sanctuary for about 3 million Afghan refugees and most of the Western-backed guerrilla parties fighting the Kabul government.

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