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Thousands Flee Afghan Battle, Rebels Report

From Reuters

Thousands of refugees fleeing from fighting around the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad have arrived in Pakistan and as many as 30,000 more are streaming toward the border, Afghan rebels said Monday.

Mullah Torkhani, a guerrilla who returned to Pakistan from the Jalalabad area Monday, said that crowds of old men, children and women clutching babies and bundles of possessions are heading toward the Khyber Pass on the frontier.

Drivers are finding it difficult to use the highway, which is mostly controlled by the moujahedeen guerrillas, because of refugees on the road, other rebels said.

Thousands of Afghans from in and around Jalalabad have already crossed into Pakistan to escape what Kabul government officials have described as the heaviest fighting of the 10-year-old war.

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The Western-backed rebels launched their assault on Jalalabad a week ago. They are eager to capture a major Afghan city to gain credibility for the provisional government they chose at a congress in Pakistan last month.

The forces of Afghan President Najibullah’s Soviet-backed government responded with heavy bombing and shelling and say they halted the rebel advance. Rebel sources said that fighting continued Monday but at a much lower level.

The sources said the guerrillas were two to three miles from the city center but much closer to the airport, a center of heavy fighting for several days.

Most of the latest refugees are members of families who had supported the Soviet-backed government, the rebels said.

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In Kabul, the Afghan capital, a spokesman said the government’s forces routed a moujahedeen ground offensive to capture Jalalabad but that retreating rebels were pounding the city with shells and rockets.


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