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UN May Probe Taleban POWs' Deaths -- Newsweek - 2002-08-19


A U-S magazine reports some United Nations officials believe there should be a criminal investigation into the deaths in Afghanistan of hundreds of Taleban prisoners, who apparently suffocated while they were being transported in sealed shipping containers.

The prisoners reportedly died late last year, after Taleban resistance collapsed in northern Afghanistan. They were in the custody of fighters from Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, and were being transferred from the city of Kunduz to a prison in Shebergan.

Newsweek magazine says U-N officials have gathered evidence showing large numbers of Taleban prisoners were buried in a mass grave (at Dasht-e Leili) in northern Afghanistan.

The magazine says a confidential memorandum prepared for U-N officials concludes that "a full-fledged criminal investigation" of the prisoners' deaths is justified.

Authorities are not certain how many Taleban fighters died while being transported to prison last year. A witness quoted in the U-N report put the death toll at 960, and (this week's issue of) Newsweek reports other people say the number was even higher.

However, (Faizullah Zaki) a spokesman for Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Afghan warlord whose forces were in control of the area where the prisoners died, says no more than 120 people died in the shipping containers, and some of those deaths were due to battle wounds inflicted earlier. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is celebrating its independence day today (Monday) -- the first celebration of the holiday since the fall of the Taleban. President Hamid Karzai and the country's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, led observances in Kabul marking the 83rd anniversary of independence from British rule.

The two leaders were among thousands of Afghans gathered at Kabul's main stadium. Tight security was in effect, with U-S Special Forces patrolling the area.

In another development, a U-S military spokesman (Colonel Roger King) told reporters at Bagram Air Base that two U-S soldiers were shot in the leg early Sunday during an intelligence-gathering mission in southern Afghanistan. He said four people were detained during the operation, but gave no other details.

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