A former militia commander elected to Afghan parliament killed in dispute over fire

A former militia commander who was elected to Afghanistan's parliament was shot dead Sunday along with at least two of his followers in a dispute over a suspicious fire, officials said.

Esmatullah Muhabat was killed in a shootout in Laghman province, east of the capital, Kabul, after a firewood merchant accused one of Muhabat's followers of setting a blaze that damaged the merchant's wood supply, said Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai.

Muhabat, a commander in the militia forces that fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, then among themselves in the 1990s, was elected in September to the national parliament the first in more than 30 years set to convene later this month.

Seven candidates were killed in the months before the Sept. 18 vote, and a candidate who appeared likely to win a seat was gunned down in late September while ballots were still being counted.

Muhabat and a group of bodyguards came to the wood merchant's home Sunday morning, after the merchant blamed one of Muhabat's supporters for an overnight fire that damaged the wood he was selling and took the supporter to the police, Stanekzai said.

He said three of Muhabat's followers were killed in the resulting clash, but other officials including Laghman Gov. Shah Mahmood Safi and an aide to the provincial police chief said two were killed.

The merchant's son was injured, they said.

According to the police chief's aide, who goes by the single name Gulistan, Muhabat had been in U.S. custody last year at Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

The United States, which led the forces that drove the Taliban from power in 2001, is holding hundreds of detainees at the base as part of its counterterrorism efforts. Others have been released.

Safi has urged people in the province to surrender their weapons as part of a national disarmament campaign, but many former warlords, their followers and others still have guns.

The election of former warlords and others involved in decades of violence has raised concern that the 249-seat lower parliament house may be riven by the same internal tensions that have hobbled the country for decades, reported AP. P.T.

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