- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

TEHRAN A former Afghan warlord who opposes the interim government in Kabul and its American ties has disappeared from his home in Iran's capital after being told to leave the country, Iran's official news agency said yesterday.

Reports of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's disappearance came a day after an Afghan official said he would be treated as a war criminal if he returns to his homeland and as Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai ended a three-day visit to Iran.

Earlier this month, Iranian authorities closed Mr. Hekmatyar's offices in the country, apparently as part of diplomatic efforts to ease growing tension with the United States. Washington has accused Iran of working to destabilize Mr. Karzai's government by harboring its enemies and sending commandos across the border into Afghanistan.

Mr. Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister, has called Afghanistan's interim government a U.S.-imposed administration.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted an unidentified official as saying that Mr. Hekmatyar "has left his place of residence in Tehran" and that his whereabouts are unknown.

IRNA said Mr. Hekmatyar had been told to leave Iran a few days ago. He had lived in Iran for the past five years.

Mr. Hekmatyar "will be treated as a war criminal if he decides to return" to Afghanistan, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad told the Associated Press in Tehran on Monday.

In recent months, many Iranian legislators had called for the "expulsion" of Mr. Hekmatyar, saying his presence was "detrimental to Iran's national interests."

Mr. Hekmatyar was a strong ally of the United States and Pakistan during the war against Soviet invaders in the 1980s. However, he was blamed for the chaos that engulfed Kabul after the fall of the pro-Moscow government in 1992. He fled to Iran after the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996.

Mr. Karzai's first visit to Iran since becoming prime minister in December came after President Bush branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" and his administration repeatedly accused its government of trying to undermine Mr. Karzai's government.

Mr. Karzai, who left Tehran for India yesterday, said he would not let the U.S. accusations influence efforts to improve relations between the nations, IRNA reported.

"Remarks by U.S. officials will have no impact on the resolve of the Afghan government and people in [improving] ties with Iran. Iran's help will allow us to regain our position in the world," the radio quoted him as saying.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and Mr. Karzai signed a memorandum of understanding on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking and promoting trade, which will see Iran help Afghanistan reorganize its police and army, IRNA reported.

On Monday, Mr. Karzai addressed Iran's parliament, where he said Iran and Afghanistan shared "a common culture and language and these bonds have made our friendship eternal."

Also on Monday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cautioned Mr. Karzai about foreign interference in a reference to the United States.

He said Mr. Karzai's government "should be careful that the issue of reconstruction is not exploited by others to infiltrate Afghanistan politically and economically."

Iran has pledged more than $500 million over five years for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

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