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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 15:01 GMT
An Afghan nightmare
War-damaged Kabul street
Rocket fire trapped Kabul residents in their cellars
By Marzia Adil

For two days residents of the Kabul neighbourhood of Waselabad had been trapped in their cellars.

Rockets were exploding outside, making it too dangerous to leave.

Sweeta, 10, was among the besieged, along with her mother Adela, her father Khalil, her brother Hamid, 13, her younger sister Tarana, 6, and her one-year-old baby brother.


Sweeta overheard them say that in time she would become more beautiful and fetch a better price.

It was winter, and the air in their cellar was bitterly cold. The family had not eaten for days, and the two youngest children were crying from hunger and fear.

Sweeta's father reached a decision: he would go out in search of food.

Khalil instructed his wife to stay calm and comfort the frightened children, who clutched each other and began to pray.

Then he left the cellar during a lull in the rocket fire.

Gunfire

Alone in the darkness, Sweeta and her siblings prayed that the silence outside would continue.

But some time later, it was broken by the sound of gunfire.

Then came the sound of footsteps from the hall. The children assumed their father was returning.

But when they rushed up the stairs, they were confronted by two men from their neighbourhood.

They were carrying Khalil, who was covered by a bloody cloth. He was dead.

Khalil's wife and children wept as one of the men handed them two bags of apples.

"Your father had these with him," he said.

New home

After sunset, the neighbours dug a grave in the yard. Early the next morning, Sweeta's mother led the family away from Waselabad in search of safety.

Several days later, they at last found lodging in the home of a childless couple named Aziz and Shaima.

Sweeta's family did not have many possessions, and their hosts had little more than an old carpet, a bed and a few dishes.

But Adela and Shaima became friends, and the household soon developed a routine.

Sometimes Shaima would ask permission to bring Sweeta along to the market. On several occasions, Adela allowed her to go.
Old man carrying firewood in Kabul
Kabul is bitterly cold in the winter

Then one day Shaima and Sweeta left and did not return. That night, Aziz also failed to come home.

Sweeta had been kidnapped.

For 15 days, Aziz and Shaima kept their 10-year-old victim locked in a small room, bound and gagged.

Then Sweeta was drugged and smuggled into Pakistan. A year passed, during which time men would sometimes visit her captors.

They would stare at Sweeta, and she overheard them say that in time she would become more beautiful and fetch a better price.

One day Sweeta saw another girl being led away by a fat man who had paid the couple some money. Then Sweeta was drugged once again and moved somewhere else.

She awoke on a bed and burst into tears.

Rescued

A woman she had never seen before entered the room, dressed all in white. The stranger asked the weeping child to calm down and tell her what had happened.

The human trafficking ring had been broken. Sweeta and her fellow prisoners were free.

She was brought to an orphanage back in Afghanistan. But all efforts to locate her family proved fruitless.

For a year she searched, and the radio broadcast news of her quest - without success.

Sweeta continued to live at the orphanage. After two years, she agreed to marry the son of one of the workers there.

Several days after the wedding, one of her new husband's friends came by for a visit. The friend had only recently returned from Iran with his family.

From behind a curtain, Sweeta stared at the guest. Then she jumped into his arms.

Her confused husband bristled with anger. Then Sweeta explained.

"This is Hamid," she said. "He's my brother."

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