Afghanistan's Taliban says provincial capital captured
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Web posted at: 1:02 p.m. EDT (1702 GMT)
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic movement reported Saturday it had captured Aibak, the capital of the northern province of Samangan, from opposition forces.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted Taliban sources as saying that a Taliban force, backed by 20 tanks and some 50 other vehicles, seized Aibak after a morning assault from adjoining Baghlan province.
AIP quoted the Taliban government's consul in the northern Pakistani town of Peshawar, Maulvi Najibullah, as saying that Aibak was now under complete Taliban control.
Earlier, AIP said Taliban forces, in an overnight attack, captured Doshi, a small town in Baghlan province on the Salang highway to Kabul that is still blocked by opposition forces.
The purist Taliban Islamic forces, who belong to Islam's majority Sunni sect, have scored a series of victories in recent weeks against the northern-based opposition, ringing alarm bells in neighboring secular Central Asian states and in mainly Shiite Muslim Iran.
An opposition alliance spokesman Saturday accused the Taliban of waging ethnic war in recently captured northern areas, including the opposition capital of Mazar-i-Sharif.
"As soon as the Taliban stepped in the city of Mazar, they massacred (ethnic) Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks," Azizullah Shafaq, a spokesman for the Shiite Hezb-i-Wahdat faction, told Reuters. "It is a humanitarian tragedy."
But a Taliban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, rejected the charge as propaganda to divert world attention from opposition defeats.
After nearly eight months of military stalemate, the largely ethnic Pashtun Taliban last month broke the opposition defense line in the northwestern province of Faryab with local commanders' help. It overran opposition military bases in Shiberghan and last week entered Mazar-i-Sharif.
Shafaq said that in all these areas the Taliban had forced tens of thousands of ethnic minorities from their houses in revenge for its failure twice last year to extend its rule in the north and for the heavy casualties it suffered then.
"They have been expelling those people from their houses who had no role of any sort against the Taliban," he said, adding that people were wandering in mountains without food or shelter."
He accused the Taliban of doing "ethnic cleansing" with help from Pakistan.
The Taliban say they have only carried out house-to-house searches for collecting weapons to avoid sniping and ambushes.
"They don't have any other way to avoid ... world attention for their failure and now justify it with news of false ethnic problems in the north," Mutmaen said of the opposition allegations.
He said some neighboring countries and the opposition alliance did not want Afghanistan's unity and made such "fabrications" against the Taliban who, he said, was close to bringing the country under one administration after about 20 years of conflict.
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