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World - Middle East

Iran army forces parade near Afghan border

graphic November 1, 1998
Web posted at: 5:47 p.m. EST (2247 GMT)
In this story:

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian army forces paraded on Sunday near the Afghan border ahead of the final phase of major military exercises, the country's state-run television reported.

Some 200,000 army troops have been sent to the tense border with Afghanistan for the exercises, which began on Saturday with live-fire war games involving tanks and infantry.

Iranian television showed tanks, armored personnel carriers, towed and self-propelled guns, as well as rocket launchers lined up in a desert area in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

Fighter planes and helicopters were shown flying over the parade, which Iranian TV said was overseen by the army's commander-in-chief, Brigadier-General Ali Shahbazi.

Iranian TV said the forces were ready to participate on Monday in the last phase of the Zolfaqar-2 maneuvers, named after the sword of Ali -- the cousin of Prophet Mohammed and first Imam of the Shi'ite faith.

Forces to remain after war games

The war games are due to involve infantry, armored and artillery units as well as commando forces and naval units, supported by the air force and army air corps.

In addition to the 200,000 army troops, Iran has massed 70,000 Revolutionary Guards in the border area covering 19,300 square miles (50,000 sq kms).

Iran has said its forces would remain in the area after the war games to protect its eastern borders against threats to its national security, including the drug trade.

"Iran will not tolerate violations of its borders and drug trafficking," Iranian television quoted Shahbazi as saying.

Iran is a major route for opium and heroin smuggled from Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the so-called Golden Crescent -- to Europe.

Iran 'ready to suppress' enemies

Shahbazi was also quoted by the official Iranian news agency IRNA as saying Iran was "ready to suppress any kind of plot by the enemies of Iran."

Tensions rose sharply between Iran and the Afghan Taliban in August after fighters of the purist Islamic militia killed Iranian diplomats when they captured the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Iran, which supports the Afghan opposition groups fighting the Taliban, has demanded the punishment of those responsible for the killings and said it would consider all possible measures to settle the crisis, including military action.

Tension between predominantly Shi'ite Iran and the Sunni Muslim militia eased somewhat in October after the release through U.N. mediation of dozens of Iranians held captive by the Taliban.

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