BBC NEWS, March 3, 2005

Concern over Dostum appointment as chief-of-staff to the armed forces

Gen Dostum - his critics want him to be put on trial

An international human rights group says that a controversial Afghan militia commander should not have been given a high-profile military post. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been accused of war crimes, has been appointed the chief-of-staff to the commander of the armed forces.

The US-based Human Rights Watch says it could mean that Gen Dostum will not be held accountable for alleged abuses.

It is not clear how much power the new position will give Gen Dostum.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says the appointment is being seen as largely symbolic and is an attempt by President Hamid Karzai to play a balancing act.

It is being seen as a move to win Gen Dostum's support ahead of parliamentary elections due later this year.

But a spokesman for Human Rights Watch says Mr Dostum should not have been given any official position and must be held accountable for his actions during the civil war in the 1990s when thousands died, as well as in the deaths of hundreds of Taleban prisoners in 2001.

Thousands were said to have died during the civil war

Other human rights groups have expressed similar concern at the appointment.

"A government which contains individuals suspected of having committed serious human rights abuses is a step backward and in fact risks entrenching past abusers in power and setting back progress in creating a culture of accountability," Amnesty International Afghan researcher Nazia Hussain told the Reuters news agency.

Afghanistan's own Human Rights Commission has reiterated a call for the establishment of a mechanism to hear all alleged war crimes cases, although it has not commented directly on Gen Dostum's new position.

Controversial past

In the 1980s Gen Dostum backed the invading forces of the Soviet Union against the Mujahedeen rebels.

He then played a prominent role in the civil war that destroyed much of the capital Kabul and left thousands dead.

In 2001, while helping the United States, his militias were accused of suffocating hundreds of Taleban prisoners to death by locking them inside shipping containers.

For these alleged crimes many Afghans and human rights groups say Gen Dostum should be put on trial.

A survey by the Afghan Human Rights Commission released in January found widespread support for investigating the abuses of the past and for setting up a system to keep those accused of such crimes out of power.

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