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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 11:10 GMT
Prison revolt inquiry ruled out by Straw
The Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near Mazar-e-Sharif
The revolt took three days to suppress
An inquiry into the crushing of a revolt by Taleban prisoners at a fortress in northern Afghanistan, which left no survivors, has been ruled out by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Northern Alliance troops, backed by US and British forces, suppressed the uprising at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near Mazar-e-Sharif, on Tuesday after three days of fighting.

We see no need for an inquiry at the moment

Jack Straw
Calls for an inquiry by human rights watchdog Amnesty International were joined on Thursday by MEP Glenys Kinnock, wife of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

But Mr Straw was adamant such a move was unnecessary and impossible.

"The idea that at this moment you can have a judicial inquiry in the difficult circumstances of Mazar-e-Sharif is frankly not on," the foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Rapid talks progress

He said the best way to improve human rights across Afghanistan was to encourage the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government.

Progress towards that was now happening with the talks between rival factions in Bonn, he went on.

"I think it's fair to say that more progress has been made in the last three days than anybody really anticipated was possible."

The revolt at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort - which resulted in the first known American combat death since action began in Afghanistan - involved about 500 non-Afghan Taleban prisoners detained after surrendering at Kunduz.

Execution claim

Mrs Kinnock told Today the fort had been targeted by "overwhelming bombing" from US airstrikes and that many of the dead were found with their hands behind their backs "clearly executed".

"We have to have an inquiry in order to ensure there is some kind of accountability," she said.

"We want to know what caused the prisoners' revolt, such as it was, and we want to have an inquiry about whether the military response was proportionate."

Apart from Amnesty International, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has also called for an inquiry.

British forces in Mazar-e-Sharif
British and American forces helped suppress the revolt
Jose Diaz, a spokesman for the High Commissioner, told BBC News Online that, although the situation had been complex, "there are a lot of unanswered questions".

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it is too early to know exactly what happened at the fort, although he said the UK had made it clear they believed prisoners should be properly treated.

Jack Straw accepted the revolt was "absolutely terrible" with "this slaughter of prisoners".

But he insisted it was not "some easy Western circumstance" - Taleban supporters who had surrendered and been taken prisoner broke away from their guards, gained access to arms from the fort armoury and started fighting again.

The time for non-government organisations to make representations over the handling of the revolt was later, once congressional committees were looking at the overall conduct of the war.

Geneva Convention flouted

The foreign secretary claimed US and British military forces in Afghanistan were following international law.

"Of course it's been the case that some of the forces on the ground have not followed the Geneva Convention, but that above all has been in respect of the Taleban."

General Rashid Dostum
General Dostum: Mistreatment not to blame
Local alliance commander General Rashid Dostum has denied allegations that the uprising was triggered by ill-treatment of prisoners.

He said it began when a group of prisoners threw a grenade at a general he had sent to assure them they would be well treated.

The prisoners had then looted an arms depot, he said, adding that three of his best generals were killed in the uprising.

BBC correspondents who visited the scene the day after the fighting ended described an acrid smell in the air inside the complex.

Scores of corpses were strewn around, including 40 in one area smaller than a football pitch. Dozens of dead horses also littered the scene.

See also:

29 Nov 01 | South Asia
Fresh bloodshed at Mazar fort
28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Timeline: Fort revolt
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Taleban prison revolt
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Meeting Taleban's foreign fighters
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bloodbath at Afghan fort
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