3 mass graves found in Afghanistan

Bodies believed to be civilians killed by Taliban

April 08, 2002|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Residents have discovered three mass graves near the town of Bamian in the rugged Hindu Kush Mountains, at a site near where the Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance forces frequently clashed, United Nations officials said yesterday.

Afghans in the area say the graves are filled with civilians, ethnic Hazara killed by the Taliban just before the regime's collapse in December. The Taliban, mostly Pashtuns and militant followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, were accused several times in recent years of revenge killings of the Shiite Hazaras in the Bamian province.

The 6-year war between the Taliban and the warlords of the Northern Alliance produced repeated charges of mass executions and ethnic cleansing on both sides.

The Taliban accused the Northern Alliance of committing genocide in the town of Bamian early last year after opposition forces launched a major assault.

A U.N. team, including a human rights and law enforcement expert, flew to Bamian yesterday to survey the grave sites, near the town's airport. The United Nations had no estimates of the number of dead.

Investigators returned to Kabul late yesterday afternoon and are expected to report on their findings today.

The Taliban captured the Bamian River Valley in 1998, a year after thousands of their fighters were killed in the area, mainly by a Hazara group. As skirmishes continued in the high valleys of the region, each side accused the other of atrocities.

An inquiry last year led U.N. officials to conclude that Taliban forces had deliberately slaughtered more than 100 civilians Jan. 19 of last year in Yawkalang in western Bamian province. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Taliban to "take immediate steps to control their forces" and called on them to arrest and prosecute those responsible.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the U.N. Special Mission to Afghanistan, said yesterday that the first reports of the discovery came Friday evening. After a day of preparation, investigators flew to Bamian yesterday to talk to tribal leaders and determine whether it was possible to send forensic experts to the site.

For religious reasons, the Hazara want to rebury their dead as quickly as possible, de Almeida e Silva said. The United Nations has no forensic experts in Afghanistan, he said, although there is a list of those who could be called in if needed.

The graves are near the site of the large statues of Buddha demolished in March of last year on orders from Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

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