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Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
UN to investigate Taleban deaths
Taleban prisoners
Prisoners were allegedly left to die in sealed containers
United Nations officials will hold talks with a warlord embroiled in the controversial deaths of 200 Taleban fighters during the war in Afghanistan.

The visit to meet Abdul Rashid Dostum marks an about-turn for the UN which recently said the time was not right for an inquiry because the young Afghan Government did not yet have the capacity to mount one.

Abdul Rashid Dostum
General Dostum said most of the deaths were from battle injuries and disease
The trip was planned after General Dostum and three other Northern Alliance commanders issued a statement acknowledging that 200 Taleban prisoners had died.

They said the deaths had not been intentional but there have been allegations that the men were locked inside containers and left to suffocate.

The warlords' statement said a few men may have suffocated to death as they were being transferred to a prison in the northern town of Sheberghan.

But most died from diseases and injuries suffered in the battles that led to the fall of the Taleban.

Mass grave

Three bodies exhumed from a mass grave discovered near Sheberghan have been examined by UN forensics experts who concluded they suffocated.

A BBC correspondent said the grave appears to be merely a dusty square of land until one sees the black turbans scattered like rags on the ground, then the bones and even teeth.

Taleban prisoners
Taleban fighters died while on their way to this prison in Sheberghan
Human rights groups say up to 1,000 Taleban prisoners taken during the battle and siege at Kunduz were killed, many sealed in containers.

The warlords denied those figures in their statement.

The UN spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said: "We are sending a mission to review with them their statement and to discuss their offer to co-operate with any new investigation."

General Dostum called on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and the international community to investigate other reports of atrocities - by the Taleban against his own Northern Alliance forces.

Mr de Almeida e Silva said: "If they raise that point, we're ready to follow up on any issue."

The government of President Hamid Karzai said last month it would investigate the deaths but no inquiry is ongoing.

The UN halted its own preliminary investigations in May, saying it was more important for the Afghan Government to improve the lives of the living.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kylie Morris
"There are black turbans scattered like rags on the surface of the site, bones, and even teeth"

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27 Aug 02 | South Asia
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