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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 11:47 GMT
US allies deny 'Mazar massacre'
Northern Alliance fighters
The Alliance says they gave the Taleban a chance
The Northern Alliance has denied reports of the mass execution of captured Taleban soldiers in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

One of its regional commanders, Mohamed Mohaqeq, said many Taleban and Pakistani fighters - 520 according to reports - had been killed during the battle for the city.

Opposition fighter at Chahrak
The opposition holds over half of Afghanistan
But he denied United Nations reports that they had been killed after being taken prisoner.

Mazar-e-Sharif, a key town in the north of Afghanistan, was the first major Taleban stronghold to fall to Northern Alliance troops in this week's offensive.

School resistance

Taleban troops were said to have retreated to a school and held off the Alliance offensive during two days of fierce fighting in the city.

Eventually opposition forces used tanks to demolish the building while the Taleban soldiers were inside.

They, rather than calling it a massacre, are saying that they were in fact trying to make these men give up, and fighting with them to persuade them to leave

ITN reporter Andrea Catherwood

British ITN TV reporter Andrea Catherwood, the first journalist into Mazar, said on Thursday: "The Northern Alliance claim that they [the Taleban] refused to give up fighting.

"They claim that they actually sent elders into the school to try to persuade them to give themselves up.

"When they wouldn't give themselves up, the Northern Alliance went in with tanks and I saw those tanks today.

"They demolished most of the school and three days later, the Red Cross are still in the ruins of the school picking out the bodies. We saw many bodies being stretchered out."

Kept in a container

She said the Northern Alliance insisted they had not wanted to kill so many Taleban troops.

"They, of course, rather than calling it a massacre, are saying that they were in fact trying to make these men give up, and actually fighting with them to persuade them to leave."

She describes another scene in which Northern Alliance fighters produced dozens of Taleban soldiers they had kept prisoner in a metal freight container.

"They obviously looked shocked, gaunt, weak - some of them were hurt, some of them were injured and were bandaged," she said.

The Northern Alliance are holding 200 Taleban soldiers in Mazar, she said.

Residents in the city say law and order has broken down, with armed men roaming the streets and stealing from people's homes.

Some 60 French troops are being sent to the city to take part in humanitarian operations.

See also:

14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Concern over Afghan massacre reports
24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition 'closes on key city'
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Mazar-e-Sharif's bloody history
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The tough battle for Mazar
16 Nov 01 | Europe
French troops head for Mazar
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