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U.N. Probes Claims of Violence Against Afghan Witnesses

Reports of torture and killings are tied to case of dead Taliban fighters.

November 15, 2002|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United Nations said Thursday that it is looking into claims of torture and execution of witnesses to the deaths last year of as many as 1,000 Taliban fighters whose bodies have reportedly been found in a mass grave.

The U.N., which is running an assistance program in this devastated country, also condemned the shooting deaths by police of two students in a protest this week at Kabul University. The deaths were "in no way justified by self-defense or public safety concerns," it said.

At a briefing, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that a United Nations agency had received credible reports of war crimes in Dasht-i-Leili committed by forces commanded by Uzbek Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. The fighters, who reportedly suffocated after being piled into shipping containers when the Taliban government fell late last year, were buried in a mass grave near Dostum's base in Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan.

Dostum has acknowledged that about 200 Taliban fighters may have died while being transported to a prison but contends that most were sick or badly wounded in fighting.

De Almeida e Silva said that the U.N. had raised its concerns to Dostum about witness intimidation and persecution and that the warlord had pledged to cooperate in the review.

Authorities in the north have urged the U.N. to also investigate mass graves of those reportedly killed by the Taliban.

The U.N. had initiated an investigation into the mass graves in April and concluded that a full-scale review was needed. But De Almeida e Silva said further reviews were difficult without a witness-protection program. He noted the lack of security in a "weak state, with weak institutions that can't enforce law and order."

The U.N. also urged Afghan authorities to launch an investigation into the shootings at the university and "take appropriate sanctions against those responsible." In addition to the deaths, about 15 students were injured.

"It is clear that the demonstrations have taken place against the background of the very difficult conditions prevailing at Kabul University today," the U.N.'s statement said, referring to lack of power and water and delays in food distribution that prompted the student protest. "We trust that student grievances can be addressed through dialogue between the students, the government and academic authorities.

Said De Almeida e Silva: "There is a lot to be learned by police about training, discipline and equipment."

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