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Russia rules out peacekeepers for Afghanistan
By Richard Balmforth

MOSCOW, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Russia prepared to send a team of government officials to Kabul to help in efforts to form a transitional administration in Afghanistan, but ruled out on Saturday participation in peacekeeping operations.

Russian officials said a 17-member team, drawn from the foreign, defence and other ministries and headed by special envoy Alexander Oblov, would work with U.S. and U.N. officials in Kabul on the political make-up of an interim government.

But Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov ruled out any Russian participation in an international peacekeeping effort.

"The question of sending peacekeeping forces to Afghanistan has to be approached with extreme caution," he told journalists in remarks confirmed by his spokesman.

"Russia has no plans to take part in peacekeeping activity in Afghanistan."

Britain, France and Germany on Friday announced they were sending troops to Afghanistan.

Ivanov's comments underscored Moscow's concern not to be drawn into any military activity in Afghanistan where Soviet forces were bogged down for 10 years in the 1980s in a debacle that cost the lives of 15,000 soldiers.

Referring to a future post-Taliban administration, Ivanov was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying: "This government must include all ethnic groups and, in the first instance, Pashtun."

Pashtun are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and dominated the ranks of the Taliban whose forces retreated from Kabul last Tuesday leaving the city to the opposition Northern Alliance.

Bad weather forced the Russian team to cancel plans to fly to Kabul from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Saturday. The delegation would try to go on Sunday, Tass news agency said.

Ivanov, angling his comments at NATO countries which were considering contributing to a peacekeeping force, said Afghanistan was "not Kosovo" -- a reference to the 1999 NATO air strikes against targets in Yugoslavia over Slobodan Milosevic's policies.

"In Afghanistan things are much more complicated. I would caution against the euphoria of victory over the Taliban. The Taliban have not disappeared. They can switch to the tactic of Chechen fighters -- carry out ambushes, explosions, diversionary operations," he said, referring to the separatist conflict in Russia's Chechnya province.


Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani earlier returned to Kabul five years after the Taliban drove him out and his Northern Alliance said it did not want foreign troops.

The United Nations said the Alliance was obstructing urgent talks needed to construct a broad-based post-Taliban government.

Russia, along with the United States and other Western governments, favours a U.N. plan for a two-year, broad-based interim administration in Afghanistan.

But Ivanov said Russian arms supplies to the Northern Alliance whom Moscow has always recognised as the legitimate government would continue.

The Russian team will seek to prepare the ground in Kabul for re-establishing a diplomatic presence. Russian diplomats pulled out of the Afghan capital in the 1990s as power changed hands and Moscow's influence weakened.

Officials in the team from the ministry of emergency situations would discuss ways of broadening humanitarian aid to the Afghan government, Ivanov said.

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