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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Ethnic divisions fuel Afghan fears
Afghans from the Panjshir Valley
Inter-ethnic tensions have long been a source of strife
A leading human rights body has warned of the danger of ethnic violence in the looming conflict between Afghanistan's ruling Taleban and the opposition Northern Alliance.

The call, from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, comes as the Northern Alliance prepares itself for battle following the US-led military strikes on Afghanistan.


Outside pressure and monitoring is urgently needed

Sidney Jones, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch has said that ethnic Hazaras, frequent targets of ethnic violence, remain particularly vulnerable in Afghanistan's ongoing civil war.

"Over the last three years we've seen a series of reprisal killings in Hazarajat and areas to its north as control has shifted back and forth," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

"Outside pressure and monitoring is urgently needed to prevent further abuses."

Death threats

Human Rights Watch also warned of possible reprisals against Pashtun communities if the Taleban begin to lose their grip on power.

In 1997, the predominantly Pashtun Taleban massacred over 3,000 Hazara civilians in retaliation for the execution of thousands of Taleban prisoners in northern Afghanistan.

A fighter from Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance
The Northern Alliance feels buoyed by the US strikes
In recent years leading Taleban clerics have described the Shia Hazara community as "infidel" and threatened them with death if they did not convert to Sunnism.

The Taleban regime has been at loggerheads with Iran over its extremist stance against the Shia Muslims.

The Iranian Shia republic threatened an invasion of western Afghanistan in 1998 after nine Iranian diplomats were killed during the Taleban attack on Mazar-e Sharif.

The crisis was averted after Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar agreed to the return of their bodies to Tehran and offered to release Iranian prisoners.

A surge in ethnic tensions will make the organisation of a broad-based provisional government to replace the Taleban more difficult than ever.

The former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, is expected to visit the region this week to resume efforts with representatives of the Northern Alliance to broker a power-sharing administration.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ben Brown
"The Northern Alliance can't believe their luck"
See also:

08 Oct 01 | South Asia
Boost for Northern Alliance
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Deal to oust Taleban sealed
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's king in exile
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
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