Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike
Friday March 1, 4:47 AM(AFP)
More than a third of the 300 Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners at a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba joined a spreading hunger strike sparked by a
confrontation over a detainee's turban-like headdress, a military spokesman said.
The hunger strike began Wednesday during the prisoners' noon meal and grew in numbers at dinner that evening and at breakfast on Thursday, said Marine Corps
Major Steve Cox, a spokesman at the naval base.
In a 45-minute protest Thursday morning, some inmates chanted rhythmically and pushed sleeping mats, bedclothes and other "comfort items" under the chain link
fence that enclose their cells, Cox said.
The strike was the first instance of organized resistance at the barbed-wire enclosed detention center since the detainees began arriving by military aircraft from
Afghanistan January 11, officials said.
Cox said it was triggered by a confrontation Tuesday over a turban that one of the detainees had fashioned out of a bedsheet.
But in speaking to detainees, military commanders also found an underlying current of tension over their uncertain legal situation, he said.
"They don't know what is going to happen to them. They don't know when something might happen. They don't know if something will happen to them," he said.
"That's the real issue, the overarching issue is just the tension associated with uncertainty, uncertainty over their future," he said.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Pentagon will soon be ready to set up military commissions to try detainees from the Afghan conflict,
but interrogations for the purpose of prosecution were just beginning and no charges have been brought so far.
US handling of the prisoners has been a source of controversy since detainees were first marched onto planes in Afghanistan in shackles and hoods for the more than
20 hour flight to the isolated base on the southeastern tip of Cuba. Another 194 prisoners remain in US military custody in Afghanistan.
Washington has come under criticism from human rights groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross and some European allies for refusing to treat the
detainees as prisoners of war and keeping them in legal limbo.
Cox said the trouble began when a guard ordered a detainee to remove his turban-style headdress, which was against the rules because of concerns it could be used
to conceal a weapon.
The prisoner ignored the order even after a translator repeated it, so the guard went into the cell and took the turban off the detainee's head, he said.
The camp's military commanders learned later that the prisoner had not responded because he was praying, and Islamic custom requires complete concentration on
the prayer, Cox said.
News of the incident apparently swept through the camp by word of mouth because at the noon meal the following day the first inmates refused their meals, he said.
"There were a number of individuals who chose not to eat the noon meal yesterday, some more individuals choose not to eat the evening meal yesterday, and then
more than a third of the folks chose not to eat the breakfast meal this morning," he said.
The prisoners are given meals three times a day in their eight-by-eight foot cells.
Meals are designed to be appropriate for Muslims, but the menu is boring.
Breakfast is oatmeal, an orange, fresh bread and a bottle of water. Lunch may be pasta, or vegetable stew, dry cereal, a box of raisins, two granola bars, a bag of
chips, a bag of peanuts, and a bottle of water. Dinner is usually white rice, red beans, a banana, bread and a bottle of water.
The detainees are kept separate at almost all times, but they are allowed to speak to one another through the chain link walls of their cells.
Art seen as key to restoring Afghanistan's soul
By Rebecca Harrison
Thursday February 28, 11:09 PM
PARIS (Reuters) - Afghanistan must rebuild its heritage after the Taliban's drive to obliterate non-Islamic art if it is to defeat the legacy of its oppressors, the director
of an Afghan art exhibition in Paris said on Wednesday.
The Taliban's destruction of two priceless 1,000-year-old Buddhist statues exactly one year ago was a symbolic precursor to the felling of the World Trade Center's
twin towers, said Jean-Francois Jarrige, head of Paris's Guimet museum.
The former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were accused by the United States of sheltering Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, blamed for the deadly attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11.
"Heritage is a symbolic force that Afghanistan's enemies wanted to destroy. If we want to rebuild the country and its soul, we must treat this symbol as a priority,"
Jarrige told Reuters at a preview of the exhibition, which opens to the public on Friday.
As well as destroying the Buddha statues, which stood 53 metres (175 feet) high and 38 metres (125 feet) high in the Bamiyan region, the Taliban rulers wrecked the
contents of the Kabul museum and most of the country's ancient sites.
Some items were salvaged by French archaeologists and taken to the Guimet museum, which is displaying the treasures and other Afghan gems from around the
"The idea behind the exhibition is to reconstruct this artistic heritage, to show it cannot be wiped out," Jarrige said.
Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai visited the exhibition, entitled "One Thousand Years of Afghan Art", during a two-day visit to France on Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry said eight first-century treasures saved from the Kabul museum and restored in Paris would be returned to Karzai.
The museum, which houses the largest collection of Afghan art outside Afghanistan, plans to work with archaeologists to uncover new sites of hidden treasures
unscathed by the Taliban.
"We urgently need to help the Afghans take their destiny into their own hands. We will provide archives and documents and help them develop the means to search
for new sites," he said.
Afghanistan absorbed artistic influences from its many invaders, including Greek, Indian and Persian dynasties, as well as from traders travelling on the Silk Road
"Afghanistan retained its own unique twist by fusing different cultures and traditions," Jarrige said.
The exhibition's centrepieces are Greco-Buddhist statues that combine south Asian Buddhist features with the regal pose and flowing tunic of a Greek god.
The 250 artefacts from museums and private collections across the world span Afghan history from prehistoric times to the Islamic period. They include statues
saved from flattened Buddhist monasteries and illustrated poetry from the 16th century Islamic era.
The destruction of the giant Bamiyan statues inspired the exhibition, but it took on extra significance after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
"We can see now that the outrageous destruction of the Bamiyan statues prefigured the even more monstrous attacks on the twin towers," Jarrige said.
"This is no longer a protest exhibition because the Taliban is no longer there... but it is a homage to the Kabul museum -- a sister museum that became a martyr while
Poll shows Muslims doubt Arabs carried out U.S. attacks
Thursday February 28, 2:23 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An overwhelming majority of Muslims do not believe Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States and
disapprove of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, a major survey showed on Wednesday.
Despite news reports that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis, only 18 percent of those polled in six countries said they believed Arabs carried out the
attacks, according to a Gallup poll published in USA Today.
Many blamed Israel or the United States, the paper said, buttressing anecdotal evidence of a huge gulf between the West and Islamic countries over the attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Just nine percent said U.S. military action in Afghanistan was morally justified, while 77 percent said it was morally unjustified. The United States targeted Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda network, which it accuses of masterminding the attacks, and the Taliban militia, their erstwhile Afghan hosts.
Commenting on the poll, President George W. Bush said the United States needed to do a better job promoting itself.
"There is no question that we must do a better job of telling the compassionate side of the American story," Bush told reporters on a visit to Charlotte, North
He cited the example of North Korea, where most citizens of that country were not aware that the United States donated 300,000 tons of food each year to help the
"It is essential for us to not assume that the kindness of the country is known and so we have to do a better job of telling the story," Bush said.
In what it called possibly the most challenging project in its history, the Gallup Organisation found residents of nine mainly Muslim countries viewed the United States
unfavorably by a 2-1 margin, CNN said in its account of the poll.
A total of 58 percent of those surveyed had unfavourable opinions of Bush, compared with 11 percent with favorable views, CNN said.
The findings were not immediately made public by Gallup.
Poll respondents overwhelmingly described the United States as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased", USA Today quoted Gallup Poll
Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport as saying.
Gallup said it carried out 9,924 face-to-face interviews in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco in December
About half of the world's Muslim population lives in those nine countries. Not every question was asked in each nation, CNN said.
Results were based on the unweighted total of all the interviews, with no statistical adjustments to reflect each country's population. Margins of sampling error ranged
from 2 percentage points in Pakistan to 4 percentage points in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, USA Today reported
U.N. appeals for emergency aid for Afghanistan
By Rosalind Russell
Thursday February 28, 10:17 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations launched a fresh $1.18 billion relief appeal for Afghanistan on Thursday, saying Afghans need a speedy improvement in
their living standards if the country's fragile stability is to be maintained.
The appeal underlines concerns that Afghanistan risks falling back into chaos without a quick injection of funds to bolster the credibility of the new interim
Millions of Afghans are in urgent need of food and other humanitarian supplies following four years of drought and more than two decades of war.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy to Afghanistan, appealed for the funds at a meeting of U.N. officials, non-governmental organisations,
Western donors and the interim administration in the capital Kabul.
"Within the U.N. system, we ask for international support for the $1.18 billion programme...which covers a wide spectrum of relief, recovery and reconstruction
needs," Brahimi said.
U.N. officials said the appeal, to meet Afghanistan's emergency relief needs until the end of the year, was separate from the $4.5 billion pledged by Western
governments at a conference last month in Tokyo for long-term reconstruction.
Brahimi said 2002 was a time of hope for Afghanistan after tribal forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, ousted the hardline Taliban regime, which placed heavy
restrictions on the work of humanitarian aid agencies.
But he said the international community needed to act quickly to address the needs of the Afghan people to prevent the country falling back into the chaos and
insecurity of the past.
CHANGE, AND FAST
"Afghans must see tangible change in their lives, and quickly," he said. "It is true that much hangs in the balance, and there is no room for complacency. Complete
stability and security has still to be attained."
Afghanistan's interim administration, installed in December under a U.N.-brokered agreement, is struggling to meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people and
to expand its authority beyond the capital to areas still controlled by warlords.
Unless aid reaches people fast, there is a fear that ordinary Afghans will lose faith in the Western-backed administration led by Hamid Karzai, allowing the warlords
Ashraf Ghani, director of the interim administration's Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority, said none of the money pledged in Tokyo had yet been received,
although bilateral aid from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India and China was starting to trickle in.
"The larger flows of the Tokyo agreement need specific modalities," said Ghani. "We are at that phase where the planning process is really intensifying and certain
amount of money is already in the pipeline."
U.N. officials said the money was needed urgently.
"Now is the time to deliver on the substantial promises made in Tokyo," said Kenzo Oshima, emergency relief coordinator for the U.N. Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs.
International help was also needed in ensuring security and that included expanding the mandate of the multinational security force currently confined to Kabul,
"Failure to improve security will only compound the difficulties of addressing human suffering, and of promoting reconstruction around the country," said Brahimi.
Another concern of the government and aid officials is that this year's poppy harvest will be a bumper crop, with heroin and opium trade providing a handy revenue
stream for the country's warlords.
Ghani said the interim government was committed to combating the trade.
"It's premature to announce the details but the government is fully committed to take strong measures to make sure the crop is not harvested," he said.
Pakistan says U.S. plane was not attacked
Thursday February 28, 10:52 PM
ISLAMABAD, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Pakistan's top military spokesman said on Thursday that a U.S. pilot erroneously reported a gun attack on his aircraft earlier this
weak, mistaking heat from a furnace for hostile fire.
The incident, which took place at a Pakistan airfield used as a U.S. logistics base, had raised fears of a backlash against the U.S. military presence in the volatile
"That's an absolutely incorrect report. There was no firing on any American aircraft," Major-General Rashid Qureshi told reporters at a news briefing.
"What happened was that one of the new pilots in the aircraft that was to land at Jacobabad airport detected a heat source which was interpreted as someone
targeting the aircraft," he said.
He said the pilot had believed that heat emanating from an antiquated brick kiln was incoming fire as he landed his plane at Jacobabad airfield in the southern
province of Sindh.
Police in the area said they had released all eight people they had arrested after the U.S. pilot complained about the attack.
On October 14, about a week after the United States started bombing Afghanistan as part of its war to oust the hardline Taliban regime, thousands of protesters
besieged the Jacobabad base to protest against the presence of U.S. forces.
Pakistan International Airlines, Ariana to Resume Flights
Thursday February 28, 7:30 AM(AFP)
ISLAMABAD, Feb 28 Asia Pulse - Pakistan will release US$10 million, out of the announced $100 million, to Afghanistan in the next few days to help rebuild the
country. Flights by PIA and Afghan national carrier Ariana will also be resumed soon.
This was stated in a press conference held jointly by Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and Afghan Finance Minister Hidayat Amin Arsala here on Tuesday. Arsala is
also Deputy Chief of the Interim Afghan Administration.
Arsala met President Pervez Musharraf and discussed a range of issues including oil, gas pipelines, development of rail link and electricity transfer from Tajikistan to
Pakistan. The Afghanistan army and police, whose plan of organisation is underway, would provide security services on these pipelines.
Afghanistan government has started its operations by paying salary for two months to its employees. The last pay was given just before Eid, said the Afghani
Shaukat Aziz told the press that trade with Afghanistan was growing as daily 80 to 120 trucks were crossing Torkham and Chaman checkpoints. They carry almost
goods worth Rs 25 to Rs 35 million including cement, steel and daily-use items. This trade would increase as the focus on reconstruction would augment, he added.
Shaukat Aziz also referred to the last ECC meeting which totally deregulated the trade with Afghanistan. It also approved negative list for export to Afghanistan,
allowed export of urea, high-speed diesel, furnace oil and all other petroleum products, zero rated export from EPZ/Bonds except vegetable ghee and cooking oil.
Both ministers also talked about the involvement of ECO for increasing regional co-operation. Afghanistan can become nucleus of the Central Asian Republics and
the other part of Asia.
GOP hits Daschle for remarks on Afghan war as politics envelopes battle against terrorism
Thu Feb 28, 5:42 PM ET By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Republicans pounced on Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle on Thursday for saying the war on terrorism "will have failed" without Osama
bin Laden (news - web sites)'s capture.
Each party accused the other of injecting politics into the fight against terror.
From the White House to both chambers of Congress, leading Republicans lambasted the remarks by the South Dakota Democrat, who is seen as a possible 2004
"Disgusting," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
In a written statement, Daschle aides said the senator stood by his remarks and that they were "no criticism of President Bush (news - web sites) or his campaign
Even so, the flare-up underlined how, with congressional elections looming eight months off, Democrats are trying to choose their words carefully when raising
questions about the widely popular U.S. military reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.
It also highlighted that Republicans, long seen by the public as the stronger party on the issue of defense, are happy to capitalize on that by using any opening they
think Democrats have given them.
Some Democrats said the GOP reaction echoed remarks made last month by Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who said Republicans "can go to the country" on the
anti-terror war "because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might."
"The subtext is what Karl Rove said, they'll try to make the war a political issue," said Democratic strategist Fred Yang. "This is Exhibit A."
Republicans said it was Daschle, the Senate's majority leader, who was plunging into politics.
"He's attempting to fill the void as the alternative to President Bush," said GOP consultant Scott Reed. "He's not running but he is. This is a manifestation of that, and
it will continue."
The dustup began when in response to questions by reporters, Daschle said that while the fight against terrorism has been successful so far, "the continued success, I
think, is still somewhat in doubt."
He said the United States must find bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network, "or we will have failed."
"I think that it's critical that we keep the pressure on," he added. "We do the job that this country is committed to doing. But we're not safe until we have broken the
back of al-Qaida. And we haven't done that yet."
Bush did not respond to Daschle's criticism of the war effort, but said at a pension security event, "This is going to require more time than people may want. It's going
to require a patient and determined nation. But, having traveled around the country some, having had a chance to listen to the American people, I'm proud of the fact
that our nation is patient."
Other Republicans were direct in criticizing Daschle.
"How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field," said Senate Minority
Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., in a written statement. "He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites) said, "Obviously, people feel heartfelt about various issues. Obviously, there's going to be politics
involved. Some people may want to run for president one day."
Daschle's comments came at a time when several Democrats have begun to raise questions about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and elsewhere.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., said Thursday that more lawmakers will start questioning the administration if it doesn't demonstrate it has a clear strategy regarding
"The longer the time moves on and the less you see of details of a plan, you're going to hear more and more people, Democrat and Republican, saying, `Whoa, wait
a minute,'" said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.
At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., complained to Defense Department officials that "there's no end
in sight" to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
Other Democrats have also challenged Bush's plan to give the Pentagon (news - web sites) a $48 billion increase next year to $379 billion, the largest boost in two
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has said the White House is using the war's popularity to drum up support for its defense budget
Afghan Warlord Possibly Left Iran for Iraq - Paper
Thu Feb 28, 4:38 PM ET
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has left exile in Iran, may have sought refuge in neighboring Iraq, an Iranian newspaper said on
Iran last week told the hardline former Afghan warlord to leave the country, according to press reports, after he embarrassed Tehran authorities by opposing
Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s interim government which Iran supports.
Hekmatyar said he had fighters inside Afghanistan ready to expel foreign troops there.
"We heard that Iraq gave a positive answer to Hekmatyar's request for a visa but...declined to give visas to eight of his close friends who have accompanied him in
Iran for the past three years," Bonyan daily said.
Hekmatyar's struggle with other factions in Afghanistan caused the partial destruction of the capital Kabul and the rise of the hardline Islamic Taliban in the
"Hekmatyar is lost, but because he had some contacts with MKO members based in Iraq and Baghdad officials he is probably in Iraq," the daily said, quoting an
unidentified Afghan source.
The Iraq-based People's Mujahedeen (MKO) organization is the main armed opposition to the Iranian government. Iraq and Iran fought a war from 1980 to 1988.
In a statement from Baghdad faxed to Reuters in London late on Thursday, the People's Mujahedeen said the newspaper report of contacts between its members
and Hekmatyar was "an outright lie."
"The mullahs ruling Iran have fabricated this lie simply as a ploy to put pressure on the Mujahedeen," it said, adding that the organization and its members had never
had any contact or tied with Hekmatyar.
Hekmatyar's spokesman in Pakistan Ghairat Baheer told Reuters on Wednesday that Hekmatyar was no longer in Iran and that "his plan was to return to his own
An Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Monday Hekmatyar would be arrested and tried for war crimes if he returned home.
Hekmatyar fled to Iran in 1996 when the Taliban, whose rule was ended by the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan three months ago, took control of Kabul.
Mortar Hits Afghan School, Kills Child
Thu Feb 28, 3:33 PM ET
By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A mortar shell slammed into a rural Afghan school Thursday as boys began lessons, killing one child and injuring dozens, officials said.
British peacekeepers in the capital reported coming under fire for the third time in as many weeks.
In northern Afghanistan (news - web sites), tensions flared between rival warlords allied with the interim government. One threatened attack if his rival failed to pull
back tanks and troops.
Amid the day's sharp reminders of Afghanistan's fragile peace, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) appealed to governments to extend the
mandate of an 18-nation peacekeeping force beyond the coming summer. Annan warned the nation could quickly slide back into chaos.
"Our aim must always be to create a sustainable peace, just as we aim to achieve sustainable development," Annan told Germany's parliament, citing world neglect
after the 1980s' Soviet occupation — allowing the rise of warlords, Islamic militias and al-Qaida.
"Unhappily, that neglect is what typically happens to war-torn countries once they slip out of the headlines," Annan said.
The mortar attack hit a government-run boy's school in Sarobi, about 40 miles east of Kabul, Interior Ministry official Mohammed Azimi said.
Boys were just settling in to morning lessons when a blast tore through the school, relatives told workers at a Kabul hospital, where 19 boys were being treated.
The blast blew a hole in the ceiling of one classroom, hospital administrator Rossella Miccio said. The explosion injured 30 boys as young as 8, the government and
It was unclear whether the school was targeted or hit by mistake. Azimi said authorities did not know who fired the mortar, but accused Taliban and al-Qaida
"They fired the mortar intentionally," he said. Attackers "want to sabotage the security and stability of this government of (Prime Minister) Hamid Karzai."
The area is controlled by a warlord, Isatullah, a one-time Taliban ally who joined Afghanistan's northern opposition alliance when it took Kabul in November. Like
many Afghans, he uses one name.
In Kabul, international investigators also were searching for motives and culprits in Wednesday night's firing upon peacekeepers. The lone gunman drew return fire
"One gunman was seen firing, and then he was seen running away, and then he fired again," said Graham Dunlop, spokesman for the international force.
The shooting, like one on Feb. 20, occurred near the rocket-ruined Darulaman palace, a former residence of Afghanistan's royalty.
The most serious shooting involving peacekeepers occurred Feb. 16, when British peacekeepers fired on a vehicle taking a pregnant woman to the hospital. The
woman's brother-in-law was killed.
The peacekeepers claimed they were returning fire. The woman denied their claim, and Afghanistan's interim administration is investigating.
The British lead a peacekeeping contingent of 4,500 troops in Kabul. Their joint patrols with Afghans are meant to provide security in the capital. The United
Nations (news - web sites) is expected to decide by April whether to extend the peacekeeping force's mandate past June.
In northern Afghanistan, meanwhile, tensions between rival commanders underscored the ethnic, turf and power struggles perpetually threatening the interim
Ethnic Tajik leader Atta Mohammed accused Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, of sending six tanks and dozens of troops into Shulgara, 50 miles southwest of
the main northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Atta said he had demanded that Dostum's local commander recall his troops to a Dostum-controlled barracks in the area. If an agreement was not reached
peacefully, Atta warned, he might attack to force Dostum's troops back.
"We are trying to solve it in a brotherly way," Atta told The Associated Press. "But if we cannot, then we must defend our poor people in the village."
Atta claimed Dostum's troops were harassing Tajiks in the area. Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups live together in the district, which is controlled by Atta.
A spokesman for Dostum said he knew nothing of the allegation. Sporadic fighting between soldiers under the control of the two leaders has killed dozens of people
in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, Atta and one of Dostum's senior lieutenants signed a peace agreement in another northwestern village where fighting had killed at least six people.
In other developments:
_ The United Nations made its largest-ever annual appeal for Afghanistan. Donors in Tokyo last month pledged $4.5 billion over several years — but the United
Nations needs money immediately, not pledges, spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.
_ French President Jacques Chirac said France does not favor deploying international troops outside of Kabul, saying it would represent "interference" in
Afghanistan. Karzai, visiting France, said the Afghan people badly want international troops deployed nationwide.
Afghans Say More Taliban Officials May Surrender
Thu Feb 28,12:57 PM ET
By Andrew Marshall
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Fugitive Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan might turn themselves in if U.S. forces release the regime's foreign minister from
detention, the Kandahar government said Thursday.
Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, former foreign minister and right-hand man of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, surrendered to the Kandahar
government in early February and was handed over to U.S. forces based at the city's airport.
Kandahar officials said the United States has assured them that Muttawakil -- considered one of the Taliban's more moderate members -- will be released if he
cooperates in interrogation. He would then be covered by an Afghan amnesty for Taliban members not suspected of committing atrocities.
They said the city's governor, Gul Agha, is in talks with the U.S. military to secure Muttawakil's release.
"We cannot say anything on whether he will be released or not," said Engineer Mohammad Yusuf Pashtoon, spokesman for Gul Agha. "His release will depend on
the results of this interrogation."
The officials said 10 to 12 senior Taliban hiding in Pakistan may then agree to surrender and face questioning. They include the Taliban interior minister Abdul
They said they hoped the surrender of more senior Taliban leaders would provide valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden
(news - web sites), chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
"WAITING IN LINE" TO SURRENDER
Pashtoon said the release of Muttawakil would be crucial for persuading more Taliban leaders to surrender.
"Many people are waiting in line to cross the border and surrender. I think they are all waiting for his release. They are thinking that if he is released, there will be a
much better chance for those people also," Pashtoon said.
"People still have some kind of misconception about their treatment. They think that people arrested...will be treated physically badly, which is not true. Another fear
is their basic rights will not be respected," he said.
"But after seeing people like Muttawakil, and they see that he is treated well and given sufficient freedom...I'm sure that these people will change their minds and
come across the border," he said.
Pashtoon said surrender negotiations were at a delicate stage.
"Definitely, surrendering to the authorities and putting themselves totally at the disposal of the interrogation is not an easy job. But...those people have no alternative,"
Afghan Troops Fail to Catch Attackers of U.S. Base
Thu Feb 28,11:50 AM ET
By Andrew Marshall
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan troops and specialist local trackers are on the trail of attackers who fired rockets at the U.S. base in Kandahar last
week but nobody has yet been caught, local officials said on Thursday.
The attackers used a makeshift launching device to fire Russian-made BM-12 rockets last Sunday in the direction of Kandahar airport, the main ground base for
U.S. and Allied forces in Afghanistan (news - web sites).
The rockets missed, and the culprits fled in two vehicles as Afghan troops gave chase.
Engineer Mohammad Yusuf Pashtoon, spokesman for Kandahar Governor Gul Agha, told reporters on Thursday that the attackers had been traced to a village 6-7
miles southwest of the airport.
"We are looking for the culprits. We have a system of tracing footprints with local experts -- they look for tracks on the ground," he said.
"They traced the people to a nearby village, so we are now looking for those people. We still don't know exactly who those people are."
Pashtoon said Afghan investigators were sharing information with U.S. officials at the airport. He said Afghan security patrols had been stepped up in the wake of the
The U.S.-controlled airfield has come under sporadic attack since the Taliban fled Kandahar in December.
Two soldiers were injured in an exchange of fire on the perimeter earlier this month.
But Kandahar officials have said they believe that incident was an accident -- irking the Americans who say it was definitely a deliberate attack.
Kandahar was the Taliban's birthplace and main stronghold, and the last major Afghan city to slip from their grasp.
Some Afghans in the city say they resent the presence of foreign troops on their soil, and relations between residents and the U.S. forces soured when more than
5,000 pilgrims hoping to travel to Mecca from Kandahar airport were told no planes would leave from the city.
Many of the pilgrims have accused the U.S. forces of refusing to allow them to make the pilgrimage.
The Kandahar government says the United States did not try to block the Haj flights, but that damage to the runway meant it could not be used by large passenger
Afghan Farmers Face Severe Drought
Wed Feb 27, 4:37 PM ET
By ROHAN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer
TAKHAB, Afghanistan (AP) - A bitter and hungry winter is ending in the mountains of northern Afghanistan, but villagers say the spring thaw offers little hope of
relief from a drought that has forced them to take desperate measures. Some have sold off daughters to raise money, others have killed their mules for food.
"The snow is melting but we are afraid that there is not enough water for the fields," said Abdul Karim, the head of a village facing its fourth season without a wheat
crop, the staple on which it relies. "The ground is too hard, too dry."
Temperatures still fall below freezing at night in Takhab, a village near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. But the snowfall in the high mountain valley in which the village sits
has been less than normal this winter.
In Takhab, a cluster of huts made of mud and dry grass, the measures to cope with the food shortage have become more drastic. Some people have sold their land
and moved out for good, others have killed beasts of burden for food. Some have traded their daughters into early marriage to raise money to survive.
Aid agencies say these methods are being repeated across the mountains, adding to a growing humanitarian crisis.
More than 3 million people in Afghanistan are in urgent need of food, according to the World Food Program. The most desperate are in the isolated mountain
villages in the north, where bombing last year by U.S. forces as part of the campaign to oust the Taliban militia added to the woes brought by the drought; Taliban
shelling killed 20 oxen in Takhab, Abdul Karim said.
Some villagers have sent their daughters — one only age 15 — to marry older men in other villages in the hope that the new family will provide food, Abdul Karim
Although the practice is not unprecedented in Afghanistan, it shows the desperation of families for any source of income to survive.
"From hunger some people give young girls to rich old men," he said.
Some aid made its way into the mountain regions by donkey during winter, after reports filtered down that people were beginning to starve.
Takhab received some food aid last year, but this was running short and villagers were adding a spinach-like weed that grows wild to make dough for bread.
Twelve children died in the village of about 300 people this winter — most from diarrhea, Abdul Karim said. The nearest medical clinic is two days ride by donkey.
He said that Takhab was on a front line during fighting between Taliban forces and the northern alliance late last year. Herders regularly find unexploded mortars and
other artillery on land surrounding the village.
In early February, the World Food Program began the first detailed assessment of the needs of remote mountain regions, using helicopters to scale the mountain
passes and reach villages normally accessible only by donkey.
Some of the villages visited have been found empty, the residents uprooted and moved to refugee camps or to neighboring Iran.
The agency has had delivered 46,300 tons of food aid — mostly flour, oil and sugar — in northern Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in October, said Ismail
Omer, the WFP's chief of northern operations.
The mountainous regions were the most need, and the most difficult to reach.
"Some of these areas are almost inaccessible," he said. "It is easy to drop bombs on these areas. It is very much harder to deliver food. A miracle is needed to help
In one village, residents had sold their Kalashnikovs — the automatic rifle commonly found in most households in Afghanistan_ to get money to buy food, said WFP
spokesman Alejandro Chicheri.
"That is good in one way," he said. "But if they are selling, then someone is buying."
Most sowing will begin in the mountain regions in April. After three years of drought, few villages have seed left to replant and most villages will rely on international
aid agencies to try again to raise crops.
If they fail this season, Abdul Karim said Takhab would die.
"If the drought continues we must move from here," he said. "We will go to the city where we must become beggars."
Laura Bush to Honor Afghan Women at U.N. Ceremony
Wed Feb 27, 4:08 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. first lady Laura Bush pays her first official visit to the United Nations next week, to observe International Women's Day with
a speech focusing on Afghanistan's women.
U.N. Secretary-General and Nobel laureate Kofi Annan will also address the March 8 ceremonies, intended to "celebrate the indomitable spirit, heroism and
endurance of Afghan women," the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The event will focus on the current needs of Afghanistan's women and girls and how they can contribute to the reconstruction of their central Asian nation after a
U.S.-led military campaign toppled its Taliban rulers.
The Taliban were targeted for sheltering militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, blamed by President Bush for Sept. 11 suicide hijack attacks that
killed more than 3,000 people in the United States.
After the former government's collapse, the United Nations helped install the interim Afghan authority government now in place, which has pledged to make women
equal partners in Afghanistan's future.
Mrs. Bush has previously spoken out on the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban and has invited several of them to the White House to discuss their
The Taliban barred women from most work and education and required them to wear an all-enveloping garment called a burqa whenever they left their home
|Back to News Archirves of 2002|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).