GARDEZ, Afghanistan (AP) Afghan and United Nations mediators, joined by American officials, extracted a conditional cease-fire agreement yesterday from two rival tribal warlords in an eastern Afghan town that was rocked by two days of fighting last week.

Paul Wong
Haji Saifullah, an ethnic Pashtun fighter loyal to tribal leader and chief of the Gradez council, holds his AK-47 rifle as the contrail of a U.S. warplane can be seen in the background.<br><br>AP PHOTO

With factional fighting threatening government efforts to assert control throughout the country, the delegation hopes to avert more tribal clashes in Gardez, a town of about 40,000 people that is the capital of Paktia, a strategic border province. U.S. forces want to ensure that al-Qaida fugitives cannot flee through Paktia”s border passes into neighboring Pakistan.

On Wednesday and Thursday, soldiers for warlord Bacha Khan exchanged artillery fire with forces loyal to Gardez”s tribal council, or shura, which bitterly opposes Khan”s appointment as provincial governor. At least 61 people were killed.

Just before meeting the mediators, Khan said he was ready to fight on to assert his rights as governor an appointment that was initially self-declared, but later sanctioned by the government of interim leader Hamid Karzai.

“I am officially the governor of Gardez. I am ready for more fighting,” Khan said, gesturing toward 200 of his soldiers standing near a mud-walled outpost outside of Gardez, where the delegation traveled to meet him. “You can see my fighters.”

Shura leaders say Khan is corrupt and brutal and have appealed for another governor.

During a break in the talks, Khan said he had agreed to a request by mediators to hold off until Friday on any new assault on Gardez, 60 miles south of the Afghan capital, Kabul. But Khan said he would resume the attack if he was not satisfied with the pace of prisoner exchanges and return of the bodies of slain fighters.

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