An uneasy truce Monday ended a weekend of bloody street battles between rival Afghan factions battling for control of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
International aid workers left the beleaguered city in a Red Cross aircraft, which had arrived at the airport on the eastern outskirts late Monday afternoon.
Of the 18 evacuated workers, 11 worked for the Red Cross, whose office was caught in the middle of the fighting between Shiite Muslims and troops loyal to an ethnic Uzbek warlord, Rashid Dostum.
The workers had taken temporary refuge with aid groups elsewhere in the city, said Juan Martinez, a Red Cross spokesman.
The seven other evacuated aid workers belonged to international aid agencies Martinez did not identify. All 18 were taken to the Pakistani border town of Peshawar, where they will remain “until the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif returns to normal,” said Martinez.
He said two Red Cross workers and seven workers with Doctors without Borders and Pharmacies without Borders stayed behind in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Despite the truce, there were reports of marauding bands of heavily armed men breaking into homes and institutions and taking away truckloads of equipment. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
The main combatants in the weekend fighting were Shiite Muslims from the Hezb-e-Wahadat group and forces loyal to Dostum. Both factions belong to an opposition alliance trying to stop the Taliban religious army’s consolidation of power in Afghanistan.
Most of Mazar-e-Sharif is controlled by Hezb-e-Wahadat, whose fighters used rocket launchers in the latest street battles.
The fighting started Saturday when ethnic Uzbek forces threw out Hezb-e-Wahadat fighters from Hairatan, 36 miles north of Mazare-Sharif on the border with Uzbekistan. The battle quickly spread to Mazar-e-Sharif.
As many as 60 fighters from both sides were killed, according to a spokesman for the opposition alliance.