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Former Afghan king outlines peace plan

Northern Alliance fighters
Northern Alliance fighters walk along a trench near Quruq, Takhar province, northern Afghanistan.  

ROME (CNN) -- Afghanistan's exiled king met Monday in the Italian capital with the foreign ministers of Italy and France, who expressed full support for his plan to bring peace to his war-ravaged homeland.

Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine both told the aging former king, 86-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, that their countries are willing to provide any sort of support the king might need to put his plan into action.

The king's plan is to convene an emergency grand assembly, or 'Loya Jirga,' "that could represent the people's will" and "establish a just peace, strengthen national unity and build the country for today and the future."

The assembly would be made up primarily of tribal elders, drawn from Afghanistan's many and varied ethnic groups.

Zahir Shah is to meet Tuesday with a high-level German delegation to discuss the proposal.

The former king has been living in Italy since a 1973 coup ousted him from Kabul.

He has said he does not intend to return to power as monarch, but instead wants to serve as a unifying force for groups opposed to the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, who currently administer at least 90 percent of the country.

The other 10 percent is controlled by a loose-knit group of tribesmen, militias and anti-Taliban 'mujahedin' fighters known as the Northern Alliance, which, a source in Iran said Monday, may be close to making a significant incursion into Taliban-held territory.

A spokesman for the Hizb-e-Vahdat mujahedin group in Tehran said forces of the Northern Alliance, comprised of units of Hizb-e-Vahdat and other groups, are within six kilometers of the strategically vital northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif, close to the Taliban's military airport in the region.

They hope to take the city Tuesday, the source said.

"We have saddled our horses, and we have tightened our belts and, God willing, we will have good news tomorrow," said group spokesman Yunus Vaezi.

Vaezi said he is in radio contact with people in Afghanistan.


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