Afghan Taliban said to detain ethnic travelers

The News, August 17, 1998

KABUL, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's purist Islamic Taliban movement has detained several hundred travelers of ethnic Hazara and Uzbek groups in the past few days, witnesses and travelers said on Sunday.

They said Taliban officials at a junction in southern Jalalabad town were checking the identity of people moving from Kabul to neighboring Pakistan and were detaining those who were from Hazara or were Uzbeks.

"Hazara and Uzbek travelers are being picked up by the Taliban and taken away, whether individuals or in families,'' one witness said.

The reason for detentions was not immediately known.

Most travelers were said to be displaced families from northern Afghanistan, areas previously held by the opposition alliance but captured by the Taliban militia in a series of victories in the past few weeks.

"Such detention or stopping people has been going on since Tuesday,'' said one witness, while one source said many of the travelers, including women and children, were being kept in camps in a suburb of Jalalabad.

The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.

On Saturday an opposition spokesman accused the largely Pushtoon Taliban of forced displacement of thousands of people from ethnic minority groups in the north.

The spokesman also said that Taliban fighters had massacred unknown number of people in of Mazar-i-Sharif when they marched in the city nine days ago. The Taliban denied the allegations.

A Taliban spokesman has also rejected charges of expelling people from their houses in the north, saying they only carried out house-to-house searches to collect weapons to avoid sniping and ambushes.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said on Sunday that the Taliban had consolidated their control on Aibak, capital of Samangan province, which was captured on Saturday, and had sent more troops in the suburbs.

The advance of the Taliban, who belong to Islam's majority Sunni sect, has rung alarm bells in neighbouring secular Central Asian states and in mainly Shi'ite Moslem Iran.

After nearly eight months of military stalemate, the Taliban last month, with the help of local commanders, broke opposition defence line in the northwestern Faryab province. Its forces overran military bases of Shiberghan and last week entered Mazar-i-Sharif.

The opposition says Taliban successes are due to Pakistan's support and it has even accused Islamabad of extending direct military help.

For the third time in three days, Pakistani authorities rejected charges, mostly coming from Russia and the opposition alliance, that Pakistan had militarily helped the militia.

A statement on Sunday said that a Defence Ministry spokesman "categorically stated that no element or personnel of Pakistan Armed Forces whatsoever were involved directly or indirectly in the on-going conflict in Afghanistan.''

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g