Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Nato help sought to guard graves

Remains found at a mass grave in 2007
More than 20 mass graves have been found in Afghanistan so far

The Afghan government has sought Nato's help in guarding mass graves which are believed to contain the remains of more than 2,000 Taleban prisoners.

A presidential spokesman said "unidentified armed criminals" had tried to steal bodies from the grave.

The site in the northern province of Jawzjan reportedly contains remains of prisoners killed by anti-Taleban forces in 2001 and 1997.

A Nato spokesman said they were yet to receive the request.

'Stealing bodies'

"There have been attempts to remove remains from the Dasht-i-Laili site and we are asking Nato for help," Mr Hamidzada told the BBC's Pashto service.

Nader Nadery, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, confirmed that unknown armed men were digging the graves and stealing bodies.

Mr Nadery said it was an attempt to destroy the "physical evidence of war crimes".

Meanwhile, Nato spokesman Captain Mark Windsor told the BBC that the force had not yet received any such request.

According to reports, hundreds of Taleban prisoners died in northern Afghanistan in November 2001 after surrendering to US-backed forces.

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

Reports said the prisoners had died of suffocation in overcrowded container trucks as they were taken from their former stronghold of Kunduz to a prison in Sheberghan town, west of Mazar-e Sharif.

The 1997 killings were revealed by General Dostum who blamed them on a rival northern commander General Abdul Malik.

General Malik denied the charge.

Human rights workers say more than 20 mass graves have so far been unearthed around Afghanistan, covering all periods of the country's conflict.

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