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Talks on Interim Afghan Government Delayed

Diplomacy: German hosts cite delegates' travel difficulties. The one-day postponement also buys time for warlords.


BERLIN — A conference of Afghanistan's fractious religious, ethnic and political groups that had been scheduled to begin Monday near Bonn has been delayed a day "on technical grounds" because some participants can't make their way out of the strife-torn region in time, the German Foreign Ministry announced Friday.

The delay--likely the first of many stalls, pauses and impasses, if recent history is any indication--will also allow U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi time to meet privately with any delegations arriving over the weekend, the Foreign Ministry statement noted.

It was apparent to officials of this host country early Friday that the delegates were unfettered by Germany's well-known commitment to order. Three of the four groups that had been asked to submit the names of their representatives by 10 a.m. failed to meet the deadline, a ministry spokeswoman observed with irritation.

The faction supporting exiled monarch Mohammad Zaher Shah did advise the offices of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on time, but it submitted 10 names--two more than the delegation has been authorized to send.

The delayed arrival of delegates from the three other groups--the Northern Alliance and the so-called Cyprus and Peshawar groups, which are made up of exiles, refugees and foreign-based Afghan interests--also bought time for warlords to press their campaigns to conquer the last remaining strongholds of the extremist Taliban regime.

The delegates to the U.N.-run meeting at the Petersberg retreat near Bonn face the task of seating an interim government for Afghanistan. But some participants, most notably Northern Alliance political leader Burhanuddin Rabbani, have deemed the meeting only a "symbolic" start to the negotiations and insist that the real decisions about Afghanistan's future will come at a later phase of the talks to be held in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

German organizers of the conference have said the Petersberg session will last two to four days, but most participants have said they view their commitment as open-ended.

"We look forward to the chance to meet with our fellow participants in quiet settings behind the scenes," said Prince Mostapha Zaher, a grandson of the ousted king and one of his delegates to the talks. "As always, it is more productive to meet quietly over tea than in big official meetings."

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