Many Civilians Among 64 Killed in Afghan Fighting

Sunday, 27 April 2003 05:14 by: Anonymous
By Sayed Salahuddin
Reuters

Sunday 27 April 2003

KABUL - Factional fighting last month claimed the lives of 38 civilians, including women and children, as well as 26 soldiers executed in a remote province of northwestern Afghanistan, the United Nations said on Sunday.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said abuses in the village of Akazi in Badghis province bordering Turkmenistan also included the rape of women by factional fighters.

It called the violations, which came after fighting broke out on March 24, the gravest since the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in late 2001.

David Singh, a spokesman for the U.N. and the rights body, told a briefing the fighting appeared to have aimed to win control of territory rather than being provoked by tribal, ethnic or religious rivalry.

"According to reports, during the recent conflict in Akazi village, 38 civilians died, while 761 homes and 21 shops were looted," he said. "Among the persons who died were 3 women and 12 children who drowned in a river.

"Some reports say they threw themselves in the river to escape the gunfire. Others said the women jumped to avoid being abused by soldiers."

He said the bodies of 26 fighters of a local commander, Juma Khan, had been found executed, with their hands tied behind their backs.

Juma Khan is believed to belong to the Pashtun ethnic group.

Singh said the U.N. and Afghan rights groups were demanding that the perpetrators of the abuses be brought to trial, adding that a fact-finding mission, that also included central government officials, visited the area ten days ago to verify the violence.

"Information gathered from Akazi elders and from local human rights activists point to extremely serious violations of human rights before and during the recent armed conflict," he said.

ARRESTS URGED

"We urge the governor of Badghis and the local police to exercise all possible influence to end these violations, to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice, as well as take all other necessary measures to prevent similar events."

Badghis is one of Afghanistan's most remote and poorest regions. Singh said the Bala Murghab district, where Akazi is located, had seen a pattern of rights violations before the recent fighting which may have triggered the latest conflict.

Pashtuns are in the minority in the north and have suffered various abuses at the hands of local commanders seeking revenge against the mainly Pashtun Taliban regime.

Most of the Pastuns in Badghis are poor nomadic herders.

Singh called the violations a serious threat to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, which the government of Hamid Karzai is struggling to unify after 23 years of foreign interference and civil war.

Most Afghan factions have been guilty of serious rights violations during the war and many Afghans have continued to complain about abuses by soldiers of factional militias allied with the U.S.-led coalition pursuing remnants of the Taliban.


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U.S. to Announce End of Afghan Combat
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday 27 April 2003

SHANNON, Ireland -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today he will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss a formal declaration ending combat operations by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and shifting their role to promoting stability in most parts of the country.

While Rumsfeld said only that he planned to discuss the declaration with Karzai, a Bush administration statement issued late Friday said the declaration would be announced when the two leaders meet.

Karzai and Rumsfeld "will jointly announce that the United States, in coordination with the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan and our coalition partners, is ready to advance to a new phase and transition from combat operations to stability operations in Afghanistan," the statement said. "A key component of this phase is the deployment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams throughout the country in key urban areas."

As many as eight such teams, comprising U.S. and allied military and civilian authorities, are to be established in cities across Afghanistan to improve living conditions for Afghans and show that Karzai's central government is extending its authority and assistance to outlying provinces. Three teams already have begun operations in Kunduz, Bamian and Gardez.

"We believe the cooperation we're engaged in with President Karzai and his government, with respect to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan that supporting the central government is a good thing, it benefits them, and that that is the path of the future," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

Despite the plan to formally declare combat operations over, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are continuing to battle gunmen believed to be remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda. "They'd like to take back Afghanistan and turn it back into a terrorist training camp and a place to launch attacks against people across the globe, and we intended to see that that doesn't happen," Rumsfeld said.

Military spokesmen at Bagram air base, the U.S. military headquarters near Kabul, announced today that a second American soldier had died from wounds suffered in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Thirty U.S. and allied soldiers have died in combat since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, and 11,500 soldiers from 23 nations remain in the country.

After his talks with Karzai and meetings with U.S. commanders and troops in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld plans to continue on to the Persian Gulf region for consultations with regional allies and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Pentagon ground rules for the trip required that Rumsfeld's exact itinerary be left vague for security reasons, but Franks and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both have said in recent days that they expected Rumsfeld to visit Iraq.

Rumsfeld bristled when asked whether his trip amounted to a victory tour.

"It isn't," he said. "We've got a lot of hard work left. People are still being shot at, in some cases killed and wounded. The task before us in Iraq is clearly one that's going to take a lot of attention, a lot of focus and a lot of effort over a period of time."

Rumsfeld said his trip was designed to thank troops for their heroics in Afghanistan and Iraq and to demonstrate to the people of both nations that the United States remained deeply committed to rebuilding their homelands and presiding over a transition from authoritarian rule to "something that's on the [path] towards a more democratic and representative system in each country."

Rumsfeld said he also wanted to discuss military basing arrangements with allies in the Persian Gulf region "as we look forward to the end at some point of major combat activity in Iraq." But he gave no indication that a declaration formally ending combat activities in Iraq and beginning stability operations was at hand.

Rumsfeld said the Bush administration's support for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan is in addition to its efforts to train and equip a national army. The administration is also working with a 5,500-soldier International Security Assistance Force, which operates in the greater Kabul area.

While peacekeeping experts have long called for an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force throughout the country, Rumsfeld said that such expansion had been blocked by a lack of countries willing to commit troops. Long reluctant to use U.S. forces for a purely peacekeeping mission, Rumsfeld said more international peacekeepers in Afghanistan would probably be beneficial. But their presence would also run the risk, he said, that Afghans "can become dependent on them."

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