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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 12:36 GMT
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
Northern Alliance fighters
Troops stand accused of murder, rape and extortion
UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson is due in Afghanistan on Thursday as reports emerge of horrific abuses against the ethnic Pashtun population.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Robinson will launch an Afghan rights commission

Mrs Robinson is to spend four days in the country talking to senior officials and overseeing the launch of a human rights commission, reports said.

The former Irish president, who was vocal in her criticism of the number of civilian casualties of the US-led bombing campaign, will meet interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

Her visit comes hours after the release of a Human Rights Watch report, detailing horrific rights abuses by Northern Alliance forces in northern Afghanistan.

The US-based group warned that an expanded international security force was needed to end a vicious campaign of violence and intimidation there.

'Serious abuse'

The independent commission that Mrs Robinson will be initiating was enshrined in the Bonn accords which set up the interim government that took power in December.

They took all the women and girls to another room and started with my fourteen-year-old daughter

Pashtun woman

Its role will be to monitor and safeguard human rights in Afghanistan.

But since the fall of the Taleban last November, commanders from each of the three factions of the Northern Alliance have been accused of atrocities.

"Our research found that Pashtuns throughout northern Afghanistan are facing serious abuse, including beatings, killings, rapes, and widespread looting," said Peter Bouckaert, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Three factions - ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara - captured territory around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif along with US forces.

Pashtuns would have been targeted because the Taleban were Pashtun, correspondents say.

Harrowing testimony

Human Rights Watch researchers spent four weeks visiting dozens of villages and communities affected by violence and looting.

The testimonies that they collected make harrowing reading.

"They took all the women and girls to another room and started with my fourteen-year-old daughter," said one 30-year-old Pasthun woman.

The soldiers were from the ethnic Hazara Hezb-i-Wahdat faction, the report says.

"She was crying a lot and imploring them not to do this because she is a virgin," the woman said.

"But one of the men threatened her with his gun and said he would kill her if she did not undress. She was raped three times."

The soldiers then raped the mother, looted her home and beat her invalid husband unconscious, Human Rights Watch says.

More support

"The interim Afghan government will need much greater support from the international community to bring security and stability to the north," Mr Bouckaert said.

The International Security Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is still only deployed in Kabul.

Afghans pile on to a Soviet-made jeep being used as a taxi in Mazar-e-Sharif
Calls are mounting for international help in Mazar-e-Sharif

The force has begun training the first unit of a national army, which will be charged with eventually disarming as many faction fighters as possible.

But given the increasingly fragile security environment, calls are mounting from within Afghanistan for an expansion of the numbers and the mandate of the international force.

The calls have in turn sparked fears among some member countries of the international force of so-called 'mission creep'.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has faced opposition allegations at home that Britain put troops into the Afghan peacekeeping mission without knowing how to get them out.

Talks are under way between Britain and Turkey aimed at handing leadership of ISAF over to Ankara.

But Mr Blair has conceded that UK troops could still be taking the leading role in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan after their withdrawal deadline of 30 April.

Mary Robinson, UN human rights commissioner
"There is a need to increase the international force"
See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
US hammers al-Qaeda bastion
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan warlords forge new army
20 Feb 02 | South Asia
Rival Afghan factions 'to disarm'
05 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan's security nightmare
04 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN 'averts war in Mazar'
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