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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK

World: South Asia

UN urges probe into diplomat deaths

Iran has sided diplomatically with the Taleban's opponents

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan.

A statement called for an urgent investigation into the deaths, which it called a violation of international law.

Iran has said it holds the Taleban and Pakistan responsible for the deaths of nine of the 11 Iranians who went missing in northern Afghanistan last month. It has demanded swift arrests and the return of their bodies.

The BBC's Pam O'Toole: "The soldiers acted without orders"
A senior Taleban official confirmed nine Iranian nationals, missing since the city of Mazar-e-Sharif fell to Taleban forces last month, were killed by renegade soldiers.

Speaking to the BBC, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, said the Iranians were killed and then buried with other opposition soldiers in a mass grave.

In a statement broadcast on national radio, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the responsibility for the deaths lay with the Taleban authorities and with the Pakistani government who had vouched for the safety of the lives of Iranian diplomats before the fall of Mazar-e Sharif.

Iran demands:

  • The bodies should be returned home

  • The Taleban must arrest the perpetrators and put them on trial

  • Iranian aid workers held in Afghanistan must be freed

  • Iran "reserves its right to defend itself against foreign acts of aggression"

  • International forums, and particularly the United Nations, should "do their duty"

    [ image: The Iranians disappeared during fighting at Mazar-e-Sherif]
    The Iranians disappeared during fighting at Mazar-e-Sherif
    Correspondents say the government in Tehran may find itself under strong internal pressure to mount some form of retaliation.

    The statement gives no indication as to what Iran's next move will be.

    Iran has tens of thousands of armed troops, backed up by tanks, on the Afghan border left there from recent military exercises.

    But Pakistan, one of only three countries to have recognised the Taleban administration, and the US have appealed to Iran to avoid conflict.

    Relations between Pakistan and Iran, already considerably soured by recent events in Afghanistan, are likely to deteriorate further.

    Mr Mutawakil said the deaths of the Iranians had finally been confirmed by a special investigation team set up by the Taleban militia.

    He said the Taleban would hand over the bodies to the Iranian authorities, adding that those responsible for killing the Iranians would be punished for acting without orders.

    No apology

    When asked whether the Taleban would apologise to Iran, Mr Mutawakil said responsibility for the diplomats' safety lay with those with whom Iran had close links - a reference to the anti-Taleban opposition.

    The Taleban had at first denied any knowledge of the ten missing diplomats and one journalist.

    [ image: Warned: Iran told Taleban it was responsible for diplomats' safety]
    Warned: Iran told Taleban it was responsible for diplomats' safety
    Mr Mutawakil, who referred to all 11 of the missing Iranians as diplomats, said nine were captured by a group of unknown Taleban soldiers who entered the Iranian consulate in Mazar e Sharif while fighting for control of the city was still under way.

    According to the Taleban investigators, they were taken to the basement of the building, where they were secretly killed and then later buried in a mass grave.

    He said the two others were still missing.

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