Calls mount for Afghan fort inquiry

Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 00:41 GMT

UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has said she would support 
an international inquiry into the killing of hundreds of pro-Taleban
prisoners in a northern Afghanistan fort.  Speaking in a live webcast 
for BBC News Online, she said she was concerned about the revolt on Tuesday 
at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near Mazar-e-Sharif.  About 500 prisoners were
killed when Northern Alliance troops, backed by US and British forces,
suppressed the uprising.

"I am concerned about the prison revolt, we don't really know in detail
what happened but we do know that a lot of people got killed," Mrs
Robinson said.

The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out an inquiry, as 
has the spokesman for the US-led "coalition against terrorism", but Mrs
Robinson said the killings had to be investigated.

"It may well be that the best inquiry would be done by international 
human rights organisations... I think that might be the best solution," she

Amnesty call

Mrs Robinson said an investigation was needed to respond to what she
described as the "very disturbing" reports from Mazar.

"It is a standard setting exercise...reminding all parties that Geneva
conventions apply," she said.

"It would be important to go back over the full sequence, who was 
there, what happened," she added.

Amnesty has so far led calls for an inquiry into the deaths, 
specifically into what triggered the incident, which involved prisoners who had
surrendered in the northern town of Kunduz.

The London-based group expressed disappointment at Britain's opposition 
to an inquiry into "what is apparently the single most bloody incident of 
the war, during which serious abuses of international human rights and
humanitarian law may have been committed".

"[The rejection] raises questions about their commitment to the rule of
law," Amnesty said in a statement.

But an Islamabad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition against
terrorism said there was no evidence that unarmed prisoners were 
killed, nor that Northern Alliance forces had carried out mass executions 
anywhere else.

Kenton Keith described the incident as a battle against armed Taleban
fighters who refused to surrender.

And in Washington, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to be
drawn on whether the response to the prison revolt was proportionate.

"I wasn't there. I don't know the facts," Mr Rumsfeld told a news
conference. But he stressed that it seemed clear that the Northern
Alliance guards had every right to stop the Taleban fighters escaping 
and possibly killing others.

"It was conflict. It was war," he said.

Nevertheless, Mrs Robinson reiterated earlier calls that surrendering
forces as well as all civilians should not be abused in any way.

"If there are contraventions of standards - prisoners or civilians - 
the leaders of forces should be disqualified from a future government and 
the worst perpetrators brought to justice," she said.

Afghanistan had long suffered from a "climate of no accountability", 
she said, stressing the need to set standards in the conflict.


Mr Straw said the best way to improve human rights across Afghanistan 
was to encourage the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic 

Progress towards that was now happening with the talks between rival
factions in Bonn, he went on.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it is too early to know 
exactly what happened at the fort, although he said the UK had made it clear 
they believed prisoners should be properly treated.

Local alliance commander General Rashid Dostum has denied allegations 
that the uprising was triggered by ill-treatment of prisoners.

He said it began when a group of prisoners threw a grenade at a general 
he had sent to assure them they would be well treated.

The prisoners had then looted an arms depot, he said, adding that three 
of his best generals were killed in the uprising.

BBC correspondents who visited the scene the day after the fighting 
ended saw scores of corpses strewn around, including 40 in one area smaller 
than a football pitch.


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