MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Sept 27: At least 17 people were killed and another 23 wounded in a fresh outbreak of fighting between forces of rival commanders in volatile northern Afghanistan, witnesses and travellers from the area said on Friday.

They said the fighting broke out at dawn on Thursday and was continuing on Friday morning in the Dara-i-Suf region of Samangan province, about 100kms south of Mazar-i-Sharif, the key city in northern Afghanistan.

The fighting was between the forces of two Uzbek commanders loyal to warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum and those of ethnic Tajik Ustad Atta Mohammad.

Dostum and Atta Mohammad are both key members of the government of President Hamid Karzai, but their fighters have fought several bloody battles in various parts of the north since the fall of the Taliban last year.

Now Rouz, a traveller arriving from the area of the latest fighting, said Baba Beg, Atta’s top commander, had captured three villages from his rival Almas in the twisting valley of Dara-i-Suf, which lies on a dirt road from Mazar city.

“Most of the casualties were inflicted on Almas’s men,” he said. “We could hear the sound of artillery in the distance when we left before lunch. Seventeen bodies have been counted so far and 23 have been wounded.”

Authorities in Mazar confirmed that there was fighting in Dara-i-Suf but declined to give details.

The fighting comes amid rising tensions between Dostum and Atta’s men in the Alberz area, near Mazar-i-Sharif’s military and civil airport.

Officials from both sides have refused to comment about the tension, which has been caused by a disagreement over a demilitarization plan for Mazar-i-Sharif.

Atta’s Jamiat-i-Islami faction controls most of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was Dostum’s stronghold in the 1990s.

After several rounds of skirmishes in the past three weeks, Mazar had appeared more relaxed after Atta and Dostum reached an agreement to demilitarize the city.

After the agreement, several hundred armed men in civilian clothes left the city’s government buildings, but they have since been replaced by armed soldiers in uniform from both factions.—Reuters

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