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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
US pushes for Taleban graves probe
Taleban prisoners
Hundreds of Taleban are said to have suffocated
The United States has said it is investigating reports that hundreds of Taleban prisoners died in northern Afghanistan last November after surrendering to US-backed forces.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Washington would endeavour to make the Afghan authorities accountable for any violations.


We are going to continue to engage Afghan authorities on this matter in order to help seek accountability for any violations that may have occurred

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker
The US magazine Newsweek reported at the weekend that the prisoners had died of suffocation in overcrowded container trucks as they were taken from their former stronghold of Kunduz to Sheberghan prison, west of Mazar-e Sharif.

It quoted what it said were extracts of a confidential UN memo saying that a full criminal investigation was needed into the deaths, but said there was no evidence that US troops had been involved in or witnessed them.

The report follows revelations in May that a human rights organisation had found mass graves outside Sheberghan earlier in the year.

The organisation, the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), on Sunday itself demanded an inquiry under UN Security Council auspices to investigate one of the grave sites, at Dasht-e Leili.

The prisoners were being held by forces loyal to the ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.

'Engagement'

"We are looking into the circumstances surrounding the events that are reported in recent press coverage, as well as other allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes through our embassy in Kabul," Mr Reeker said at a State Department briefing.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum
The prisoners were in the hands of General Dostum
"We have stressed and continue to stress to Afghan authorities the importance of investigating allegations of human rights violations and war crimes.

"We are going to continue to engage Afghan authorities on this matter in order to help seek accountability for any violations that may have occurred."

PHR executive director Leonard Rubinstein described the US statement as a "step forward".

Remains of bodies

PHR have visited a number of mass graves in northern Afghanistan. Most dated from a period four or five years ago when Mazar-e-Sharif changed hands several times.

They are alleged to contain large numbers of ethnic Hazaras killed by the Taleban at that time.

But the group said it had also discovered more recent remains at two sites - one at an existing mass grave near Mazar-e-Sharif and the other at a newly located site a short distance from Sherbarghan prison.

It said it had seen the remains of bodies strewn about the ground after being scavenged by dogs and birds.

And it maintained that eyewitness reports of activity around the gravesite around that time tended to support such allegations.

Local residents said they had seen container trucks dumping bodies there.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Hodges
"US authorities... are calling on the new Afghan government to investigate"
Leonard Rubenstein, Physicians for Human Rights
"What we did find was two recent graves"
US Defence official Lieutentant-Colonal David Lepan
"We don't have any evidence either way"
British film director Jamie Doran
"They were crammed 200-300 at a time into containers"

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03 May 02 | South Asia
04 Feb 02 | South Asia
01 May 02 | South Asia
29 Nov 01 | South Asia
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
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