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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
EU 'horror' at Afghan jail conditions
Taleban prisoners in northern Afghanistan
Many were captured after the siege of Kunduz
A European Union envoy in Afghanistan has called for urgent action to improve the conditions of hundreds of former Taleban fighters held prisoner by the ethnic Uzbek faction leader, General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

The people have nothing on their bones any more, they are being treated like cattle, crammed into tents

Klaus-Peter Klaiber
Klaus-Peter Klaiber expressed horror and disbelief at the conditions he had seen in the Shibarghan camp, near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Mr Klaiber told the AFP news agency that the camp looked like the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

He said it was time for the Afghan interim government to tackle the issue.

A spokesman for General Dostum, who is Afghanistan's Deputy Defence Minister, said he shared concerns about the camp but funds were urgently needed elsewhere.

"This is not the time to ask for funds for the prison," Faizullah Zaki said. "We need funds for schools and hospitals."

He added that the general was willing to release the prisoners as long as they did not include dangerous inmates.

'Ghost-like figures'

Over 2,000 prisoners are currently held at the camp. Most of them are Afghans and the rest are from Pakistan, but all are ethnic Pashtuns.

The prisoners are fed only on thin soup, and about 400 are so badly malnourished that they are being fed by the Red Cross.

Mr Klaiber said some prisoners were being kept in rooms 1.5 metres square.

Taleban prisoner in northern Afghanistan
General Dostum says he cannot afford to improve conditions
"The people have nothing on their bones any more," he said. "They are being treated like cattle, crammed into tents."

"The kitchen, you cannot imagine. There were ghost-like figures just stirring soup."

He said he thought Prime Minister Hamid Karzai - an ethnic Pashtun like most of the inmates - would be keen to get them sent home to avoid raising tensions in the south of the country.

Mr Klaiber urged the government to pay for their transfer by bus, as many were too weak to make journeys of hundreds of kilometres by donkey.

He said there was already a momentum towards freeing the remaining Pakistanis at the camp after an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad.

On Saturday, 204 prisoners were flown back to the Pakistani border town of Peshawar.

Concerns about conditions

Thousands of Taleban fighters were brought to the camp in December last year after surrendering at the end of a long stand-off in the northern city of Kunduz.

Former Pakistani prisoners in Peshawar
Over 200 Pakistanis were released on Saturday
Dozens are thought to have died of their wounds or asphyxiated during the journey.

Frequent concerns have been raised by human rights groups about conditions for Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners both in Afghanistan and in the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The US Government says that prisoners in Guantanamo are treated humanely and within the Geneva Conventions.

The BBC's Ian MacWilliam
"All the prisoners are ethnic Pashtuns"
EU special envoy to Afghanistan Klaus Peter Klaiber
"The conditions in this prison are so appalling"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Red Cross probes Taleban deaths
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
US holds thousands in Afghanistan
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