EU calls for punishing Afghan war criminals

August 24, 2002

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KABUL, Aug 23: The European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan said on Friday anyone guilty of war crimes in the north of the country after the fall of the Taliban must be brought to justice regardless of the political repercussions.

Reports of up to 1,000 Taliban prisoners suffocating in truck containers after they surrendered to the forces of ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum last year have sparked calls for a full investigation.

Speaking after visiting Dostum and another warlord instrumental in defeating the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, the EU’s Francesc Vendrell said he was unfamiliar with all the details of the deaths but had raised the issue with Dostum.

“I stressed the importance of accountability,” Vendrell said in an interview, adding that he did not know who was responsible for the deaths and mass burial.

“It is not the first time there has been this kind of massacre (in Afghanistan). We must put a stop to it.”

The deaths came to light after the discovery of a suspected mass grave in the north earlier this year.

UP TO 1,000 DEAD: Newsweek magazine reported that up to 1,000 prisoners died in containers after surrendering to the forces of Dostum, a leader in the Northern Alliance and a key ally to the United States in its military campaign in Afghanistan.

Political analysts say any international investigation that pointed the finger at powerful warlords like Dostum could destabilize the country’s volatile north.

“I don’t believe in buying short-term stability for medium- and long-term stability,” Vendrell said. “Maybe it would cause some instability, but I think at some point this kind of thing needs to be investigated and the culprits need to be punished.”

Dostum has promised to help with any investigation into reports of the mass grave. The United Nations has made a preliminary investigation into a grave site at Dasht-i-Leili outside Shiberghan, Dostum’s main stronghold.

It exhumed three bodies for autopsy, which showed that the cause of death was probably suffocation.

Sayed Noorullah, a deputy to Dostum, said in Mazar-i-Sharif on Thursday that around 200 Taliban died when being transported in truck containers, although they were mostly badly wounded and weak from fighting.

“There is no reason that deaths happened deliberately,” he said.

SECURITY FRAGILE: Vendrell said the security situation in the north of Afghanistan was not “calamitous”, but there were a series of factors that threatened to trigger fresh violence.

He said plans by warlords to collect weapons had largely failed and the central government of President Hamid Karzai based in Kabul had very little control over the region.

The main concern, though, was rivalry between Dostum and Ustad Mohammad Atta, an ethnic Tajik commander who joined with his Uzbek counterpart to overthrow the Taliban. Now the common enemy has gone, old scores remain to be settled.

“There are personalities and a history involved,” said Vendrell. “They have known each other for a long time, there are problems also linked to ethnicity. I realise it is going to take some time to overcome.”

He said Dostum and Atta had expressed their desire to place their forces in barracks and demobilize.

He added that EU assistance and investment in the north would not be forthcoming until the region was more stable.

“The reconstruction (is) not going to happen if we feel that there was a part of Afghanistan not under the control of the Karzai government.”—Reuters