At least 35 bodies found in Afghan mass graves: local officials
Sunday April 7, 5:04 PM
At least 35 bodies, including some of children, have been found in three mass graves in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan, a representative of local leader Karim Khalili said.
"A person who had seen Daudy valley had counted around 35 to 36 bodies," Khalili's secretary Abdul Satar told AFP.
He said the dead bodies "lay very close to each other" in graves in the Zagran Valley, Fad Masty, and Daudy -- all within 10 kilometres (seven miles) of Bamiyan city, Satar reported.
Many of the bodies, which were discovered by locals last Thursday, contained bullets and showed signs of gunshot injuries, he said.
A United Nations Human Rights Organistion delegation had arrived in Bamiyan, 100 kilometres (70 miles) north of Kabul, Sunday and was inspecting the sites which have been sealed off by local officials, Satar added.
"We have been trying to identify the bodies first. Later we will allow people to go there," Satar said.
He said Khalili, the leader of the Shia Hezb-e-Wahdat -- a faction of the ethnic Hazaras -- which control most of Bamiyan province, was holding talks with the UN delegation.
Satar said similar mass graves had been found in the past but the bodies had been reburied by locals.
He accused the ousted Taliban regime of being responsible for the deaths.
"All this had happened during the black era of the Taliban," he said.
The Shiite Hazaras, who claim to be descendants of Genghis Khan, suffered particularly badly for their fierce resistance to the hardline Taliban regime during its five year domination of Afghanistan.
When the Taliban seized control of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, several thousand Hazaras were gunned down in the streets and their homes in a two day frenzy of bloodletting.
The Hazaras joined forces with the Northern Alliance which, backed by decisive US air strikes, finally defeated the hardline militia on December 7.
Bamiyan last year became the scene of one of the Taliban's most infamous acts when the militia destroyed two giant Buddha statues, reducing the 1,500 year-old monuments to rubble with explosives despite worldwide protests.
Sunday April 7, 4:59 PM
Afghanistan gets first mobile phone network
Afghanistan' first commercial mobile phone network covering the country's principal cities is to be launched on Sunday, Afghan Wireless Communication (AWCC), a new Afghan-US joint venture, announced.
Global system for mobile (GSM) cards go on sale in Kabul on Sunday, offering the first non-satellite links with the war-battered country since telephone lines with Pakistan were cut during the fall of the hardline Taliban regime.
The network has been built and will be maintained by AWCC, a joint operation between the Afghan communication ministry and Telephone Service International, a US firm owned by exiled Afghan Eshan Bayat.
"It is a beautiful day for the development of the country. I hope that it will not be limited to the rich and that everyone will have access," said Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai.
"Everyone should be able to have a GSM."
Retailing at 450 dollars (or 150 for existing cellphone owners) connections will be beyond the budget of most ordinary Afghans who earn less than 40 dollars per month.
Monday April 8, 8:01 AM
Special Summary Of The War On Terrorism
A U.S. Army general addressed prisoners Sunday, explaining the removal of some inmates from their fortified compound, where two days earlier troops shackled an American-born man before taking him to a military jail in the United States.
Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus urged patience while the government considers cases of the 299 men being held at this U.S. naval base on suspicion of having links to Afghanistan's fallen Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terrorist network.
US Backs Indonesian Reforms, Anti-Terror Efforts - Envoy
A senior U.S. envoy Sunday expressed support for the efforts of President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government to reform the Indonesian economy, nurture democracy and combat terrorism.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick lavished praise on the president and made it clear that her administration's success was vital to America's interests in Southeast Asia.
US May Send 300 Extra Soldiers To Philippines - Official
The U.S. may send 300 extra military personnel to the Philippines to help with infrastructure projects on a southern island where local army units are fighting Muslim extremist rebels, a Philippine military official said Sunday.
The contingent would join 600 U.S. personnel already in the Philippines for a controversial six-month counterterrorism training exercise to help the military here crush the Abu Sayyaf, Muslim rebels who have been linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
UN Investigates Mass Graves Reported Found In Afghanistan
A U.N. team was traveling to the central Afghan city of Bamiyan on Sunday to investigate three mass graves that townspeople said contained the bodies of ethnic Hazaras killed by the Taliban last fall.
The number of people buried in the graves and the exact circumstances of their deaths were unclear, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.
Pakistan Offficials To Question Suspects At Guantanamo
A team of Pakistani intelligence officers will leave soon for Cuba to help U.S. authorities interrogate prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, government officials said Sunday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pakistanis will focus on those Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners who may have had access to the leadership of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
US Delays Presenting Evidence Of Iraq's Arms Program - WP
With the Israeli-Palestinian crisis raging, the Bush administration has postponed a new campaign to expose Iraq's latest attempts to acquire prohibited chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, according to U.S. and other Western officials quoted in Sunday's Washington Post.
U.S. diplomats were planning to offer evidence in an intelligence briefing before the United Nations' Security Council - but rising Arab criticism of U.S. support for Israel's military offensive prompted the delay, the Post reported.
Report: China Pres Warns Against Attacking Iraq
Chinese President Jiang Zemin urged the U.S. in remarks published Sunday to refrain from military action against Iraq, while stressing his support for combating terrorism.
"International disputes cannot be solved by force," Jiang, who begins a five-day visit to Germany on Monday, told the weekly Der Spiegel. "Like Germany and most other states, we want to solve the Iraq question under the conditions of the U.N. resolutions."
UK Blair: Saddam Must Allow Weapons Inspectors Into Iraq
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the strongest signal yet he would back U.S. military action against Iraq, said Sunday that Saddam Hussein must allow weapons inspectors into his country "any time, any place the international community demands" or face consequences.
Blair, ending a weekend of talks with President Bush, urged the international community to confront terrorist regimes with military force if necessary - then called Saddam a brutal leader who must be dealt with. He stopped just short of specifically threatening military action against Iraq.
Rockets Fired At Afghanistan Peacekeepers' Camp
A Chinese-made rocket exploded just yards from a camp housing international peacekeepers Sunday, the first such attack since security forces began patrolling the Afghan capital last year.
Elsewhere, a U.N. team sent to the central city of Bamiyan found evidence of three mass graves apparently filled with ethnic Hazaras killed last year in the Taliban's final month in power.
Monday April 8, 5:41 AM
Rockets fired at Kabul peacekeepers' building
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - At least two rockets were fired at a building housing multi-national peacekeeping troops in Kabul early on Sunday morning, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
It was not clear who was responsible was for the attack, which caused no injuries or damage and came days after Afghan officials said a plot to destabilise the interim administration had been foiled.
Foreign troops were also the target of the foiled campaign of bombings aimed at killing interim leader Hamid Karzai.
Afghan officials said on Sunday they would not rule out involvement of fundamentalist groups in the rocket attack, including remnants of the vanquished Taliban regime and followers of one-time prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"The guards on duty at that time reported what they thought was a rocket-propelled grenade attack against the location which houses the Kabul headquarters of the multi-national brigade," Lieutenant-Colonel Neal Peckham told reporters.
"The impact was merely two hundred metres from the perimeter fence" of the headquarters, he said.
The compound that was targeted is a major operational base for ISAF, which has its administrative headquarters in central Kabul.
Feraydon (one name), a secretary for Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni, said the rockets were fired from the Bagrami area southeast of the city.
"So far we have not arrested anybody in connection with the rocketings. Those who did it are probably either Taliban remnants or loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar," he told Reuters.
An Interior Ministry team was investigating, he added.
Foreign ministry spokesman Omar Samad said pockets of Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters were regrouping with the help of what he called local and foreign fundamentalists aimed at toppling the interim administration.
ISAF has brought stability to the Afghan capital after the ruling Taliban were driven out of the city by opposition Northern Alliance forces late last year and are welcomed by the majority of residents for the calm they have brought.
But on at least two occasions the troops have been fired on in Kabul.
Peckham said one of the weapons was a Chinese-made 107-mm rocket, a type mujahideen fired into Kabul in the 1980s during their battle against the Soviet army and the Communist government it backed. The rocket has a range of eight to 10 km (five to six miles).
He said ISAF was taking the incident extremely seriously and was reviewing security measures.
"There are linkages to an incident that occurred on the eighth of March where a very similar weapon system was aimed against the airfield," he said, referring to Kabul airport which ISAF also uses.
But he said the rocket in that incident had not been fired.
A key function of the 5,000-strong British-led ISAF is to protect Karzai and his administration.
Afghan officials say they have detained around 160 suspects and accused Hekmatyar of being behind the plot to topple the U.N.-backed government.
Hekmatyar's fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami party, a major recipient of U.S. aid during the mujahideen war against the Soviet military, has denied any involvement.
But Hekmatyar has in recent months threatened to attack foreign troops in Afghanistan.
His whereabouts were not known. In recent years he had been living in Iran but authorities closed his offices in Tehran in February and Afghan officials now believe he is in Herat province on the Afghan-Iran border.
Sunday April 7, 10:57 AM
Afghan government has 'undeniable evidence' of bomb plot: Abdullah
The Afghan government has "undeniable" evidence of a bomb plot against it, the country's foreign minister said, as a former Afghan minister rejected the claim and said those accused had no links to ex-prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"I have no doubt for a single second about the evidence that is there, that I have seen with my own eyes," Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said Saturday.
"The evidence is very clear ... undeniable evidence like equipment and devices which could be used for sabotage activities or terrorist actions," he told reporters.
His comments come after the arrest earlier this week of more than 250 people following a major surveillance operation.
Officials have said those detained were followers of Hekmatyar, the leader of the fundamentalist Hezb-e-Islami party, a faction traditionally opposed to the Jamiat-i-Islami whose members are prevalent in the interim government.
But Sabaoon, a former finance minister who had been sheltering some of the detainees, has denied any plot and insists the men were not followers of Hekmatyar.
"The people who have been arrested from my office and guest house are my friends, my servicemen and my guests," he told reporters.
Sabaoon said more than 200 people had been arrested but were subsequently released, including his nephew and secretary. He said he was unclear about the motive for the arrests.
"I think they (the police) have made a mistake. Maybe someone has wrongly informed them," he said.
Asked if he had seen or heard the detainees plotting against the government, Sabaoon answered: "Nothing, never."
Meanwhile Abdullah said he was unsure of the whereabouts of Hekmatyar who had been in exile in Iran but is now rumoured to have returned to Afghanistan.
"It is said that he is perhaps inside Afghanistan, in the areas on the border with Afghanistan, but I have no specific information.
The foreign minister, who has just returned from an extensive foreign trip taking in Geneva and Kuala Lumpur, said security had improved markedly in the last few months but the government still faced significant opposition.
"There is no doubt that the interim administration has got popular support, but from the other side it is also known that it has its enemies in Afghanistan -- those that are remnants of the Taliban, those that are part of al-Qaeda and besides that other enemies that do not see the political settlement to the (advantage) of their own personal vested interests.
"The security threats are posed by those enemies altogether."
Abdullah said the alleged plot should not further delay the return to Afghanistan of former king Mohammed Zahir Shah who is due back in his homeland on April 16.
Hekmatyar's party represents the dominant Pashtun group in Afghanistan, whereas most senior officials in the interim administration installed after the Taliban's collapse are ethnic Tajiks.
Most of the Tajiks belong to the Jamiat-i-Islami faction, the most powerful group in the Northern Alliance which fought the Taliban after the mainly Pashtun militia seized Kabul in 1996.
Jamiat-i-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami fought against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but turned on each other in the years that followed, reducing much of Kabul to ruins.
Sunday April 7, 10:00 PM
U.S. says no trace of bin Laden in cave network
By John O'Callaghan
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Sunday they had found no evidence to support rumours a network of reinforced caves found in eastern Afghanistan had been used as a refuge for Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders.
U.S. soldiers returning from a six-day mission on Saturday said they saw rooms with steel ceilings and concrete floors, including a possible jail, in some of the 15 caves they searched. They also blew up ammunition and found documents.
Some said they were told by villagers that bin Laden and his men retreated to the rugged terrain around Zawar Khili, about 35 km (21 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, after the heavy U.S. bombing and ground offensive of "Operation Anaconda" in early March.
Major Bryan Hilferty, a U.S. military spokesman, said he did not know whether the caves had been enhanced by mujahideen warriors fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s or more recently by bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"It confirms that the Zawar Khili Valley was at one time certainly an important place," he told reporters at Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul. "I don't know of any evidence that there were senior leaders there."
Documents found in the caves would be studied by intelligence analysts, but their contents would not be made public, Hilferty said.
BORDER AREA IN FOCUS
Captain Lou Bauer of the 101st Airborne Division described two of the caves as "quite elaborate".
"There were several rooms," he told reporters on Saturday. "One appeared to be a jail."
One U.S. private told Reuters he saw "big, long caves that intersect for about one to two miles".
The border area around Zawar Khili has been bombed by U.S. planes and searched by special forces for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters fleeing last month's battles in the nearby Shahi Kot Valley, the biggest U.S. ground offensive in the Afghan war.
The craggy ridges and foothills of eastern Paktia and Khost provinces continue to be a prime area for U.S.-led operations as intelligence officers warn that the rebels are laying low and planning a new series of guerrilla-style assaults.
Other mop-up operations in the area have turned up weapons caches and documents, but few enemy fighters.
Some Afghan commanders have questioned U.S. estimates of thousands of rebels killed and say many disappeared into the local population or escaped across the mountains into Pakistan.
But the United States said its efforts to track down al Qaeda and the Taliban were concentrated within Afghanistan.
"The Pakistanis have been a very good partner with us," Hilferty said. "Our focus right now is on Afghanistan and there are hundreds of people all throughout Afghanistan that we're still trying to find."
Washington blames al Qaeda for the September 11 attacks on the United States. The Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan for five years under a strict interpretation of Islam, are also a target for harbouring Saudi-born bin Laden and his forces.
Sunday April 7, 1:36 AM
Afghan ex-king to return home despite coup plot
KABUL (Reuters) - Former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah will return home from exile in Italy by mid-April despite a thwarted plot to destabilise the country's interim government, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday.
"He has promised to come. For the time being it is mid-April," Abdullah told a news conference.
"There were some concerns about his security on the part of the Italian government and the United States," he said.
The 87-year-old king was due to put an end to nearly 30 years of exile last month, but as on several previous occasions delayed his homecoming because of security fears.
There was concern he would again postpone his return after the interim government earlier this week said it had foiled a plot against the ex-king as well as interim leader Hamid Karzai, a royalist installed in power last December following the collapse of the Taliban regime.
"These activities which have now been revealed about suspects involved in a plot against prominent personalities or the interim government as a whole, might have been one of the reasons for the past concerns," Abdullah said.
The king is scheduled to inaugurate a Loya Jirga (Traditional Assembly) in June to elect a new transitional government after Karzai's six-month rule expires.
The monarch is regarded by some as a father figure who could help unite Afghanistan's disparate and often warring tribes, although support for the king is strongest among his own Pashtun ethnic group.
The king was overthrown by his cousin in a bloodless coup in 1973 while he was on holiday in Italy after ruling the country for 40 years.
Abdullah said despite this week's roundup of nearly 160 people for alleged links to the coup plot, threats remained to the interim government.
He said the government had "undeniable evidence" against the suspects.
Abdullah said the suspects were followers of the Hezb-i-Islami party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fundamentalist warlord who has voiced his opposition to the king, the interim government and the presence of U.S. and other coalition forces.
Earlier this year neighbouring Iran forced Hekmatyar to leave its soil where he had been in exile since the rise of the Taliban. Afghan officials suspect he may now be in Herat province near the Afghan-Iran border.
Hezb-i-Islami party spokesmen have denied the group was linked to the plot.
Abdullah said the interim government had no evidence to suggest neighbouring countries, including Iran, had any connection to the alleged plot.
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