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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Refugees tell of Taleban abuses
Taleban fighters
Reports say Taleban troops burned villages
By Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark

There have been new reports of human rights abuses carried out by the Taleban in the central highlands of Afghanistan.

In January, Taleban troops killed 170 men and teenage boys, apparently as a collective punishment, after opposition fighters belonging to the same ethnic group captured the town of Yakawlang.

Allegations are now emerging that the Taleban have since burned whole villages and killed more civilians in the same area.

Refugees have described how Taleban troops set fire to shops in Yakawlang bazaar in early June and to villages east of Yakawlang as they retreated towards their main base in the town of Bamiyan, about 60 km away.

Information is only now emerging from one of Afghanistan's poorest and most remote regions.

Tactical withdrawal

Film just smuggled out of Yakawlang lends weight to their stories.

It shows the blackened remains of the once bustling bazaar, what used to be the economic hub of the whole district.

Taleban fighters
Some villages allegedly attacked by the Taleban were not captured from rebels
The Taleban certainly made a tactical withdrawal from Yakawlang on about 8 June.

The district had changed hands repeatedly in the first six months of this year and it seems the Taleban wanted to concentrate their forces on more important fronts.

The Taleban news agency said at the time that Taleban forces, led by Commander Dadullah, cleaned Yakawlang district before they left.

Fifty of what the news agency called the enemy were reported killed, while 60 others were arrested.

Refugees have also said that in the same period in early June, Taleban helicopters strafed villagers who had fled to the high pastures north and south of the main Yakawlang to Bamiyan road.

Fears of more fighting

They say 130 people, including women and children, had been counted as dead.

More recent reports say troops have shot men trying to get back to their fields to tend crops in villages near Bamiyan.

There are also reports that Taleban troops have burned yet more villages, this time to the north-west of Bamiyan, in the area of Akrobat Pass.

What is significant is that the Taleban appear to have targeted villages not only in areas which they had had to recapture from the opposition but also those which have been safely and quietly in Taleban hands since 1998.

This is not then just collective punishment.

It seems likely that the Taleban fear a resurgence of fighting in the winter, when local opposition troops do better in the harsh mountain conditions than their own, mainly southern forces.

The creation of a scorched-earth buffer zone between opposition-held areas and the Taleban's main base in Bamiyan would give it greater protection.

But that could only come at a huge cost for civilians, who have to have shelter and harvest crops to survive this winter.

See also:

28 Jan 01 | South Asia
Taleban bar press from 'massacre site'
15 May 01 | South Asia
New Afghan refugee crisis feared
18 Sep 00 | South Asia
Ogata urges Taleban on refugee crisis
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