Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hundreds of Talibans Are Found in Desert Grave

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hundreds of Talibans Are Found in Desert Grave

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS STEPHEN

By Chris Stephen in Bagram

THE BODIES of hundreds of Taliban prisoners massacred by Northern Alliance soldiers have been discovered by United Nations investigators in what is the worst atrocity so far of the Afghan war.

The UN says the prisoners were herded into metal freight containers after the capture of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif last November and left to suffocate in the searing heat before being dumped in the desert.

The discovery throws new doubts over Tony Blair's decision last week to hand over all Taliban prisoners captured by the Royal Marines to the Afghan interim administration, which is now run by the Northern Alliance.

Fresh executions are feared.

The bodies were found last week by human rights group Physicians for Human Rights who discovered a jumble of arms and legs and bodies crushed together by a bulldozer in the desert outside Mazar-i-Sharif.

The group's deputy director, Susannah Sirkin, said: "It's very disturbing to see initial evidence that some of these prisoners died of suffocation.

We had only done a first look-see and could not do anything further as a private organisation, especially given the security situation in the country."

UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said his investigators found witnesses who said they saw Northern Alliance soldiers, holding their noses against the stench, dumping bodies from the containers into a burial pit last autumn.

"The absence of blunt-force trauma, sharp-force injury or firearm injury led the team to conclude that the cause of death was consistent with suffocation," said Mr Almeida.

He is calling on the present Afghan authorities, whose commanders led the attack on Mazar-i-Sharif last autumn, to give the UN co-operation in excavating the grave and finding out how many bodies it contains. …

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