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Alliance to let Amnesty probe Mazar killings

A Northern Alliance soldier uses the dead body of a Taliban fighter to rest his rifle during the prison revolt.
A Northern Alliance soldier uses the dead body of a Taliban fighter to rest his rifle during the prison revolt.  

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Northern Alliance says it will let rights group Amnesty International probe the deaths of several hundred captured pro-Taliban fighters who staged a revolt at a jail in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

The alliance has said probably all 600 prisoners, including Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens, and more than 40 of its own fighters were killed in three days of bloody fighting, quelled with the help of U.S. air strikes.

Amnesty International has called for a public inquiry into events at the prison and the organisation said on Thursday it would consider sending an observer to investigate the deaths.

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But it said a public inquiry was needed, saying the organisation was "ready to consider sending an observer to monitor an inquiry and to suggest forensic and other experts for it."

It said responsibility for an inquiry lay with the United States and Britain as U.S. special forces and other forces -- believed to be British -- helped alliance troops put down the revolt.

"It's the responsibility of the three parties involved to carry out the investigation," Amnesty spokesman Kamal Samari told The Associated Press. "We are prepared to help."

Calling for a investigation which was "fair, thorough and in line with international standards" Amnesty said evidence should be preserved at the battle site, and that any surviving prisoners should be protected.

The group also called for international human rights monitors to be deployed throughout Afghanistan.

The Alliance says it was forced to kill the prisoners after they seized weapons and started attacking its fighters inside the sprawling baked-mud Qala-i-Jangi fortress on the outskirts of Mazar.

"We had no intention of maltreating them. They got killed because of their own stubborness," Alliance spokesman Mohammad Habeel told Reuters news agency.

Television footage showed the bodies of al Qaeda fighters sprawled in trenches and littering the courtyards of the fort after the uprising.

Amnesty said the inquiry "should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life.

"The outcome of this inquiry, and any disciplinary or other measures that may be taken against anyone found responsible for wrongdoing, should be made public."

Several thousand foreign fighters linked to the al Qaeda network of Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden and an unknown number of Afghan Taliban soldiers surrendered to the Alliance after a 12-day siege of the nearby city of Kunduz.

The foreign fighters were taken to Mazar, the stronghold of Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, while reports say the Afghan Taliban are being kept by men loyal to the leader of the Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Habeel could not explain why the foreign Islamists were handed over to Dostum.

"Dostum himself may have an answer to this. Better ask him," he told Reuters.

Habeel said the Alliance would protect the lives of ordinary Taliban fighters.

He also voiced the Alliance's readiness to hand over the foreign fighters as well as Afghans linked to bin Laden, prime suspect in hijacked-airliner attacks on the United States on September 11, to an international body to decide their fate.

"They are not only our enemies but the whole world's, so they can decide what to do with them," Habeel said.

Also on Thursday, international human rights officials warned that the war against terror should not lead to curbs on basic freedoms.

"While we recognise that the threat of terrorism requires specific measures, we call on all governments to refrain from any excessive steps which would violate fundamental freedoms and undermine legitimate dissent," said Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The statement was signed also by Walter Schwimmer, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, and Gerard Stoudmann, rights chief at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Civil liberties campaigners have been critical of some of the steps taken by governments worldwide to crack down on terrorist activities in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

On November 13, U.S. President George W. Bush signed an order allowing the use of military tribunals to try foreign nationals, a move which also provoked criticism from some U.S. lawmakers.


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