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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Taleban 'war crimes' on Afghans
Afghan civilians
Amnesty says that often civilians have nowhere to run
Civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly facing suicide attacks, abductions and beheadings, according to a leading human rights group.

A report by Amnesty International says that attacks on civilians are widespread and systematic, and are used by Taleban rebels to instil fear.

The report says that scores of civilians have been deliberately killed by the Taleban in the past two years.

It accuses the Taleban of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity".

'War crimes'

Targets between January 2005 and March 2007 have included women's rights activists, election candidates, clerics, government and health workers and teachers.

Taleban fighters in Zabul
The Taleban are accused of treating some civilians as the enemy

At least 183 schools were burned in arson attacks across the country between 2005-2006.

Amnesty say that most victims of Taleban violence are apparently branded as "spies" or "collaborators".

In one "brutal" incident cited by the organisation last week, an Afghan journalist was killed by the Taleban, reportedly by having his throat slit.

Ajmal Naqshbandi, 25, had been taken hostage in March along with an Italian reporter, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, and their Afghan driver, Sayed Agha.

While Daniele Mastrogiacomo was released in a prisoner exchange, Sayed Agha was beheaded.

Amnesty say that the Taleban's military rulebook, or Laheya, explicitly sanctions targeting and killing civilians.

Rule 25 states that a teacher who continues to teach after warnings from the Taleban must be beaten, and if they still continue to teach "contrary to the principles of Islam", they must be killed.

Similarly, a Taleban "fatwa", or religious edict, orders the death of anyone who supports the US-led intervention.

The report documents how violent attacks directed against the country's education system increased dramatically during 2006.

Climate of fear

It says that in addition to bomb attacks and arson, the Taleban have issued threats in the form of "night letters" - usually notes or posters pinned to trees, mosques or schools under cover of darkness which warn of attacks against teachers or students.

In one such attack in December, suspected Taleban insurgents broke into a house in Kunar province killing two sisters who were teachers, along with their mother, grandmother and a male relative.

Amnesty International logo
The Taleban cease all attacks which target civilians
The government of Pakistan condemns all abuses by the Taleban
Community and diaspora leaders urge the Taleban not to commit abuses
Afghan and foreign troops observe international law when fighting the Taleban

"Parents in various regions are now reluctant to send their children to school, and the climate of fear is undermining the right to education of thousands of children, particularly girls," the report says.

"The Taleban's stance towards civilians is far removed from its obligations under international law, which clearly forbids armed groups targeting civilians."

A Taleban spokesperson interviewed by Amnesty International reportedly told the organisation that "there is no difference between the armed people who are fighting against us and civilians who are co-operating with foreigners".

Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's senior director for research, said that Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of this conflict.

"They are caught in the fighting between the Taleban, Afghan government forces, US forces and forces from other Nato countries.

"But it is the Taleban who have a deliberate policy of targeting civilians - they kill teachers, abduct aid workers and burn school buildings."

Death sentences

Amnesty say that as well as deliberately attacking civilians, the Taleban have killed or injured hundreds of people in indiscriminate attacks.

Afghan civilians are site of Nato attack
Amnesty says civilians are sometimes attacked by both sides

At least 756 civilians were killed in 2006 in attacks using improvised explosive devices such as roadside bombs and in suicide attacks, according to UN and Nato figures.

The insurgents are also accused by Amnesty of "deploying quasi-judicial bodies" charged with dispensing "justice" in areas they control, although few details about the nature of proceedings are known.

The majority of people who come before such courts have been charged with "spying", others with "murder" and "prostitution".

"Many of those brought before such bodies have been abducted by the Taleban. In many cases death sentences have been issued and carried out," the report says.

The gun-wielding Taleban in Afghanistan

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