KABUL, Afghanistan — Appealing to all Afghans to "refrain from revenge," the U.N. envoy trying to broker an urgent peace in the country said Monday that regime leaders and Muslim guerrillas massed outside the capital are moving closer to compromise. But he stressed that the safe departure of ousted dictator Najibullah is "part and parcel" of any interim agreement to fill Afghanistan's power vacuum.
In his first public statement since Najibullah was ousted Thursday, Benon Sevan refused to comment on reports that the generals who helped drive Najibullah from power finally agreed Monday to grant him safe passage out of this capital, which is gradually moving back from the brink of anarchy.
Sevan also refused to confirm or deny that Najibullah is under U.N. protection, saying only, "I understand he is in Kabul." But it is widely known that the deposed strongman took refuge in U.N. quarters after he was turned back by dissident troops at Kabul's international airport. On Monday, Sevan would comment only obliquely. "I feel fully responsible for a certain situation, and therefore I cannot afford to indulge in saying things which may affect lives," he said. "It's a sensitive issue. It's a dangerous issue also."
Sevan surfaced after four days of sensitive, private talks with Afghanistan's new leaders, who turned on Najibullah, engineered his fall and now insist that he be handed over for trial and punishment--negotiations in which a coalition of at least eight nations supported the United Nations' demand for Najibullah's safe passage.
In New Delhi, the Reuters news agency quoted a senior Indian security official as saying preparations have been made to receive Najibullah. His wife and three daughters are already in the Indian capital.
Sevan indicated frustration over the fact that the talks on Najibullah's fate were drawing attention away from the more critical negotiations between rebel and regime leaders to form an interim council to govern the country. To a flurry of questions about Najibullah's whereabouts, he wryly responded: "Can we talk first about the peace? Which is more important?"
The U.N. envoy said that today he will begin shuttling by air between cities involved in the conflict.
But it was clear Monday that the process of Afghan reconciliation is snowballing down a route totally apart from the U.N. brokering process. Coalitions continued to form throughout the country between Afghan army commanders and the leaders of the \o7 moujahedeen, \f7 the Muslim guerrillas who have battled them for the past 13 years.
One by one, in every key city except Kabul, heavily armed rebel groups pulled out of their bunkered siege positions. The army's defense lines came down, and opposing commanders sat down together for the first time to form interim coalition councils.
Even in Kabul, where the vestiges of the regime's ruling Homeland Party are desperately negotiating their own futures with powerful rebel leader Ahmed Shah Masoud, encamped north of the city, the military leaders who helped depose Najibullah gradually started removing the symbols of the 1978 Communist revolution that sparked the rebels' holy war.
At a memorial in front of Kabul's now-leaderless presidential palace, the tank that an Afghan general rode into the city during the Soviet-backed revolt against the monarchy 14 years ago was hauled off in an army truck, leaving behind just a small garden of pink and red flowers.
And there were far more tangible symbols of the military's moves toward building a coalition force of soldiers and \o7 moujahedeen\f7 .
At Pol-i-Charki Prison, the dreaded jail for political prisoners, military authorities began releasing hundreds of \o7 moujahedeen \f7 commanders and dissidents who had languished there for years.
"They told us, 'Mr. Najibullah is gone. You can go free,' " said Zabiullah, 29, who was captured while fighting with Masoud's forces three years ago.
Meanwhile, well beyond the capital's outer western defenses, in a mountainside bunker complex along the strategic highway linking Kabul to the west, a regimental army commander, Capt. Mohammed Usman, said he and his men were anticipating the arrival of guerrilla leader Abdul Haq, known in \o7 moujahedeen \f7 circles as "the commander of Kabul."
Abdul Haq, who belongs to a faction that split with Masoud's party more than a decade ago, pledged his support to Masoud as chairman of the recently formed Islamic Holy War Council, which is demanding that the regime cede Kabul to an interim \o7 moujahedeen \f7 government.
The pledge of loyalty from Haq, who commands the guerrilla force that is now ruling through coalition in the strategic town of Sarobi southwest of the capital, was a key indication that the long-fractious rebel movement was rapidly reunifying over the prospect of ruling the nation.