UN reports slaughter of captured Taliban soldiers

Hundreds of Taliban prisoners were massacred in Afghanistan, many thrown alive into wells which were blown up with grenades, …

Hundreds of Taliban prisoners were massacred in Afghanistan, many thrown alive into wells which were blown up with grenades, UN spokesman, Mr John Mills, said yesterday. The information came from a special rapporteur who visited Afghanistan between November 30th and December 13th.

The rapporteur, Mr Paik Chong-Hyun of South Korea, inspected mass graves near Shebergan, to the east of Mazar-iSharif in northern Afghanistan, and was told by the local leader, Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, that over 2,000 people had been killed, Mr Mills said.

Those murdered appear to have been Taliban soldiers captured during an advance in May and also members of local militias or political groups.

One theory is that the Taliban could have been killed during a second advance they made into northern territory in September, Mr Mills said.

The special rapporteur was told the person responsible for the deaths was Mr Abdul Malik Pahlawan, a former deputy to Gen Dostum who had briefly defected to the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban in May, helping them enter the north.

Mr Malik has been living in Iran since his defeat Gen Dostum and took part in a peace conference on Afghanistan earlier this month in the city of Esfahan in central Iran.

According to a report in the Iranian daily Jomhuri-Eslami, Mr Malik has been living in the holy city of Mashhad with members of his family since fleeing the country.

The Taliban have called on Iran to extradite him for the mass executions of the Taliban prisoners.

"The manner of death was horrendous," Mr Mills said. Prisoners were taken from detention, told they were going to be exchanged and then trucked to wells often used by shepherds, which held between 10 and 15 metres of water.

They were thrown into the wells either alive, or if they resisted, shot first and then tossed in, Mr Mills said.

Shots were fired into and hand grenades were exploded in the well before the top was bulldozed over. The special rapporteur found both bullet casings and pins from hand grenades.

About nine wells were used and a UN forensic expert said each one could contain up to 100 bodies. There are no UN figures for the number of deaths.

Mr Paik also investigated five or six shallow graves north of Mazar-i-Sharif where body parts were encrusted on the surface, Mr Mills said.

At one place, there was evidence the prisoners were lined up and mowed down with heavy calibre machine guns.

"Virtually all the bodies recovered from the shallow graves had their arms tied behind their backs with scarves, bandages or wires," Mr Mills said.

Mr Paik also visited several villages around Mazar-i-Sharif where Taliban soldiers massacred civilians of the Hazara tribe during their September advance. In one village, 53 people had been killed when the Taliban demanded weapons after entering.

The Taliban captured the Afghan capital Kabul in September 1996 and control around two thirds of the country, vowing to impose a pure Islamic state.