AI fears human rights abuses in new Afghan fighting

AFP, July 29,1999

ISLAMABAD, July 29 (AFP) - Amnesty International warned Thursday that thousands of civilians in northern Afghanistan could suffer serious human rights abuses unless the international community took action to protect them in the wake of new fighting.

"Once again, civilians are the likely targets of human rights abuses in the context of a conflict they have no active part in," the London-based human rights organisation said in a statement released here.

"Caught in a game of war between armed groups, they have only the international community to turn to for protection," the statement said.

The warning follows a major offensive launched by the hardline Taliban militia against forces of opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood on Wednesday. Reports from Kabul said the fighting has already left 130 people dead.

The multi-pronged assault by the Taliban, who hold 80 percent of the war-ravaged country, is aimed at once and for all defeating the opposition in the northern provinces.

Amnesty said similar offensives in the past had left hundreds of civilians dead.

Civilians in Afghanistan, who are unable to flee immediately after a new area is captured are often subjected to "systematic abuses" by the victorious forces, it said adding that thousands had been massacred, beaten or ill-treated.

Others have died of suffocation while being transported to detention centres in metal containers, the human rights group said.

"Both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban forces have committed gross human rights abuses against Afghan civilians in the past. What guarantees are there that they will spare civilians this time," it said.

"Will the world again stand by and watch as more civilians die, or will this opportunity be seized to protect them and prevent abuses from taking place."

The statement stressed the pressing need for the international community to protect civilians of the ethnic Tajik minority group in Masood's stronghold of Panjshir valley, as well as those living in other parts of Afghanistan.

The organization also urged the warring factions to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law and respect the security and physical integrity of the civilian population in Afghanistan.

Serious human rights abuses were reported when the Taliban militia seized the central Bamiyan province in April. Hundreds of houses were reportedly burnt by Taliban forces when they captured the city from the minority Shiite community's Hezb-i-Wahdat party.

Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar, condemned the burning of houses, which he said was in retaliation for earlier house burnings by the anti-Taliban forces.

Human rights abuses by the anti-Taliban forces against the civilian population were also reported in the past.

The rival sides were also blamed for "massacres" in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997 and 1998 following offensives to capture the former opposition headquarters.

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