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Pak-Sponsored Massacres Continue



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AAR News Release
Eyewitnesses Give Grim Account of Civilian Massacres by Taliban

by Omar Samad

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2001 - AAR - Unlike previous occasions, this time
around, the bad news first came from the United Nations'
Secretary-General
himself. Another civilian massacre had taken place in Afghanistan, and
the
Taliban militia - credited by their chief sponsors within Pakistan's
military establishment for having restored "peace and security" to
Afghanistan - were once again accused of having carried out a bloody
purge
to intimidate civilians in contested regions. Eyewitnesses now say that
at
least 210 Afghan men were gunned down in the central Yakawolang region,
and
43 others - including women - were summarily executed in the northern
Takhar
province by retreating Taliban troops last month.

During various satellite phone interviews set up through local
authorities
in Yakawolang - currently under United Front opposition control - three
local men, who claimed to be civilians not affiliated with any warring
group, recounted to Azadi Afghan Radio almost identical accounts of the
indiscriminate killings that took place over a three-day period in
villages
around the ethnic Hazara-inhabited district after the January 7
recapture of
the area by Taliban forces. The district changed hands twice between
December and January, and is now under UF control. Fresh reports
indicate
that the Taliban are sending reinforcements from Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif
and
Ghorband to recapture the district.

On Jan. 19, Kofi Annan, quoting "credible reports," announced that "more

than 100 people may have been killed, including Afghan humanitarian
workers." He called for a prompt investigation and urged that those
responsible be brought to justice. The Taliban Information Minister in
Kabul
called the UN report "another propaganda campaign." On January 21,
General
Said Hussein Anwari, a UF leader told AAR that the toll is much higher
than
reported. Subsequently, Amnesty International condemned the "summary
executions" by Taliban forces thought to number "between 100 and 300" in
its
communique. The remoteness of the region, access prohibitions imposed by
the
Taliban and lack of independent international monitoring have made it
virtually impossible to gather first-hand information.

On January 24, the opposition reported that several mass graves
containing
the remains of civilians had been discovered in the northern Takhar
province
following the retreat of Taliban forces from parts of the Khwajaghar
district after clashes erupted in that region in mid-January. A day
later on
the 25th, a Taliban spokesman in Kandahar denied the existence of the
mass
graves and called the allegation a "lie and a plot by the opposition."
The
spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, boasted, "we take pride in killing the
opposition soldiers... but we do not need to bury them, we leave them
scattered around."

But according to the eyewitnesses who spoke with AAR, the bodies found
at
both locations were of local civilians who had opted to stay behind
instead
of fleeing like many others, and were apparently executed in cold blood
by
Taliban "cleansing forces." Most of the bodies were later identified by
relatives and friends who returned to the villages after the Taliban
withdrawal.

Asad [one name] a native of the region told AAR that 210 men were
butchered
in various villages over a three-day period starting on Jan. 7. "Taliban

advance forces consisting of Pakistani and Arab fighters came first for
the
cleansing operation," he said. "They are the ones who committed the
atrocities. Once their task was accomplished, the Afghan and local
fighters,
whose treatment of the civilians is milder compared to the foreign
Taliban,
replaced the first group," added the local man.

Two other witnesses, who did not want to give their names for fear of
retribution, confirmed Asad's account. "They gathered the men and boys
as
young as 12, tied their hands behind their backs, lined them up against
the
wall behind the Oxfam aid organization building, and shot them in the
face
and upper torso with machine guns," said the witness.

By the end of the third day, at least 33 men were massacred in Beda
Mishkin,
27 in Katakhana, ten in Akhondan, 12 in Kashkak, seven in Gombazi, more
than
80 in Tagaw and scores of others in smaller villages scattered around
Yakawolang. There were no female victims but, according to one
eyewitness,
two men were executed in front of their families, and some women were
beaten
and abused.

Surprisingly, the Taliban leader Mullah M. Omar did not categorically
deny
the massacre reports, but banned journalists stationed in Kabul and
Islamabad from visiting the central highlands. "I am not allowing them
to
visit Yakawolang because their reports are not fair," he told the BBC
last
week. He blasted Amnesty International for releasing a one-sided report.
The
Taliban supremo did not mention Annan's report.

A few days later, UF authorities in Takhar province, the scene of heavy
clashes between the two fighting forces, announced the discovery of 43
bodies in the Khwajaghar region." M. Assem, an official who investigated
the
findings told AAR, "they were found in separate mass graves and 28
bodies
have so far been identified by the next-of-kin." Assem also added that
the
local civilians - most of whom seem to be farmers and herders - were
unarmed
and had been shot in the face and head, apparently  by retreating
Taliban
forces from the region a week to ten days prior to the discovery.

"13 bodies were found at Bagh-e-zakhira, five, including a woman, at
Mamooli, ten at Kandari Keshlaq, five near the airport and several
others at
various locations," he added. Photos and a video of the findings were
also
taken for submission to the United Nations and human rights
organizations.

Other groups have also confirmed that summary killings do take place. A
group of American and European medical fact-finders for Global Watch
Group
who visited Takhar province in January and talked to scores of newly
internally displaced people from the contested war front regions, told
AAR
last week that some refugees confirmed the accounts of summary
executions
and disappearance of local civilians. Dr. Cynthia  Johnston, who headed
the
assessment team, said, "we know it's real, adults and even children at
the
desolate Khwaja Bahauddin refugee camp told us about the killings and
the
burning of homes." She added, "a 13-year-old told us about how his
father
had been killed by the Taliban near Taloqan." The mission left northern
Afghanistan just prior to the latest discovery of the mass graves.

Inadequate reporting of these massacres by the American media and the
level
of insensitivity shown by some human rights circles in the West to the
plight of Afghans, were condemned by the locals inside Afghanistan and
also
by Afghan advocacy groups. "It is very disappointing and sad to see that

hundreds were massacred there but the US media in general, and
newspapers
like the Washington Post and New York Times, did not mention it," said
Dr.
Zieba Shoresh-Shamley, head of the US-based Women's Alliance for Peace
and
Human Rights for Afghanistan. "It could be politically motivated, I am
not
sure, but I know for a fact that the American people, at the grass-roots

level, are increasing more interested in events in Afghanistan," she
added.

"We are amazed why the world is not aware of our condition and doesn't
hear
our cry... are we not human?" asked Asad in Yakawolang.

When asked about the possible perpetrators of this crime, Assem said,
"Taliban's commanding officers in this province are Mullah Fazl and
Mullah
Razaq, and we are still trying to identify the immediate commander who
was
in charge of this area." Some groups started to push for an
international
war-crimes tribunal to investigate the numerous allegations and cases
building up in Afghanistan. "This is not the first massacre, it's
becoming a
trademark of the Taliban," said Shoresh-Shamley. "The world community
should
seriously consider setting up a tribunal to bring to justice all those
accused of atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide
in
Afghanistan," she added. /

Azadi Afghan Radio - V.1 - 02/04/2001 - email: mail@afghanradio.com





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