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World - Middle East

Tensions mount between Iran, Afghanistan's Taliban

Diplomats' bodies returned to Iran

Iranian troops
Iranian troops  
September 14, 1998
Web posted at: 8:26 p.m. EDT (0026 GMT)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (CNN) -- The bodies of seven of the nine Iranian diplomats killed last month in Afghanistan were returned to Iran on Monday, while tensions at the border between the two countries flared to new levels.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, aimed harsh words at Afghanistan's Taliban movement and neighboring Pakistan.

The fundamentalist Taliban on Thursday admitted killing the diplomats during the takeover of the northern Afghan city Mazar-i-Sharif.

"I have ... so far prevented the lighting of a fire in this region which would be hard to extinguish," Khamenei said, "but all should know that a very great and wide danger is quite near."

Khamenei also demanded that Pakistan, which Iran holds partly responsible for the murders, drop its support of the Taliban.

Pakistan was the first of only three countries around the world to recognize the Taliban government, and as many as 40 percent of the militia movement studied in religious schools in Pakistan.

Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmad responded to Khamenei's statements, saying that Iran is blatantly interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs and that the language used by Khamenei is unbecoming of his status and reflects "his mental ineptitude."

Possibility of military strikes exists

Over the weekend, Pakistan's foreign ministry said it could not be held responsible for events in Afghanistan and has called on both Iran and Afghanistan to exercise restraint.

Ian Ferguson reports on the conflict
Windows Media 28K 56K

But that call apparently has done little to stem the ill will between the Taliban and Iran.

Iran is massing a force of at least 200,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan. Those troops are expected to hold maneuvers soon.

Iran's official news agency reported that the Iranian army had said it was ready "to implement the leader's orders and to conduct any missions anywhere under any circumstances."

Analysts said they didn't believe Iran was preparing for a full-scale attack on the Taliban, but did not rule out limited strikes into Afghanistan, where the Taliban hold as much as 90 percent of the country.

Amnesty International and the United Nations have reported that thousands of Afghan Shiites -- supported by Iran -- were massacred during the Sunni Taliban capture of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban has handed over the seven diplomats' bodies to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which returned them to Iran. The other two bodies could not be identified.

Iran has demanded that those responsible for the deaths of its diplomats be tried by Iranian courts, but the Taliban has rejected that demand.

Correspondent Peter Bergen contributed to this report.

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