Afghanistan's two highest-ranking diplomats in Turkey have defected and, after spending several days in hiding in Rome, are now in the United States.
The two, Charge d'Affaires Ahmed Akram and First Secretary Abdul Manaf Qudes, said in Rome that they decided to defect when Turkey accepted the appointment of a new ambassador by the Soviet-installed government in Kabul to take over the embassy in Ankara.
Both told Turkish and U.S. officials that they feared an attempt would be made on their life.
Akram, his wife and two children, arrived in the United States Thursday and are staying with relatives in Jacksonville, Fla. Qudes, whose family is still in Kabul, was reported to be staying in the Washington area.
According to diplomats in Rome, the two defectors first went to the Turkish government to ask for asylum. Turkish officials reportedly suggested that it would be safer for them if they approached the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to ask for help.
Akram said yesterday that they then asked the U.S. Embassy there for political asylum but that U.S. officials said it would be "better to ask for a refugee visa."
The U.S. government, according to sources in Rome, arranged for the two diplomats and Akram's family to fly to Rome pending their clearance to go to the United States as refugees.
The Italian Foreign Ministry, questioned about the two defectors while they were staying in Rome, said it had "no information" about them.
Akram, until the appointment of the new ambassador two weeks ago, had headed the Afghan Embassy in Ankara.