Afghan president decries civilian deaths
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer Wed May 2, 1:45 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghans can no longer accept or understand civilian deaths from international military operations, President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday after officials said 51 villagers were killed during a U.S.-led offensive against the Taliban in western Afghanistan.
Despite claims that women and children were among the dead, the U.S. military maintained it had no reports of civilian casualties. But rising public anger was evident as students staged a fourth day of anti-American protests in an eastern city over civilian deaths.
Karzai met with NATO, U.S. and European Union officials, telling them that "civilian deaths and arbitrary decisions to search people's houses have reached an unacceptable level, and Afghans cannot put up with it any longer," according to a statement from his office.
During an earlier news conference, Karzai said Afghans had reached their limit after the years of conflict since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001.
"The intention is very good in these operations to fight terrorism. Sometimes mistakes have been made as well, but five years on, it is very difficult for us to continue to accept civilian casualties," Karzai told reporters.
"We can no longer accept civilian casualties the way they occur," he added. "It is not understandable anymore."
The U.S.-led coalition said the military operation in western Herat province was conducted between Friday and Sunday by U.S. and Afghan troops in the Zerkoh Valley and killed 136 suspected Taliban militants — the deadliest fighting in Afghanistan since January.
The bloodshed sparked angry anti-U.S. protests earlier this week by villagers. Mohammad Homayoun Azizi, chief of Herat's provincial council, said two council members who visited the area along with Afghan police and intelligence officers reported that 51 civilians were killed.
Azizi said the bodies were buried in three locations and included women and children. The dead included 12 relatives of a man named Jamal Mirzai, he said.
A man being treated in a hospital Wednesday said he was wounded by an airstrike that did not hit any insurgents. "There were no Taliban. Ten of my relatives have been killed, including two of my cousins," said the man, who gave only his first name, Mohammed.
Osman Kalali, a lawmaker who was part of the investigative delegation, said they did not see any Taliban or other militants among the dead. "The casualties were women, children, this kind of people," he said.
Civilian deaths have deepened Afghans' distrust of international forces and of the U.S.-backed government as they try to combat a resurgent Taliban — itself accused by human rights groups of indiscriminate attacks that often kill noncombatants.
"We do everything we can to prevent civilian casualties in our operations, and we have no reports of civilian casualties in that operation" in Herat, said a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Maj. Chris Belcher.
Officials in Italy, which has troops with NATO in Herat, have criticized recent operations there, amid concerns that civilian deaths could make Italian soldiers a target.
"Military operations that hit the civilian population risk alienating that same population," the ANSA news agency quoted Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema as saying.
U.N. officials were in the region for their own investigation into the "possible displacement of people and possible indiscriminate use of force," said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. He provided no details on their findings.
In Afghanistan's east, meanwhile, students burned a U.S. flag during the latest in a series of protests in Jalalabad over the killings of five people, including a woman and teenage girl, during a coalition-led raid over the weekend.
According to an Associated Press tally, 151 civilians have been killed by violence in the first four months of this year, including at least 51 blamed on NATO and the U.S.-led coalition. The figures do not include the most recent operation in Herat.
The last large-scale civilian deaths were in October, when between 30 and 80 civilians were reported killed during NATO airstrikes in Panjwayi, a volatile district in southern Afghanistan. NATO said a preliminary inquiry found 12 civilian deaths.
A recent Human Rights Watch report said NATO and U.S. military operations killed at least 230 civilians last year. However, most of the 900 civilian combat fatalities during 2006 were from insurgent attacks, it said.
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Probes find about 50 Afghan civilians killed in battles
May 2, 2007
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and UN investigations found that about 50 civilians, including many women and children, were killed in weekend fighting in western Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday.
The US-led coalition has said 136 Taliban fighters were killed in the clashes, that included bombing raids, with militants in the western province of Herat on Friday and Sunday.
A United Nations investigation had so far found that 49 civilians were killed in the fighting in Shindand district, spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
Police found 51 were dead, western Afghanistan spokesman Akramudin Yawar told AFP.
"The figures I have so far of the civilians killed in the three-day operation in Shindand is that 51 civilians were killed including 18 women and a number of children. I don't have the exact figures for children," he said.
A team appointed by provincial governor Sayed Hussain Anwari found 42 civilians were killed and 55 were wounded, said the governor's spokeswoman Farzana Ahmadi.
The investigation team appointed by Anwari and made up of councillors and other provincial authorities also found that 1,600 families had fled the area because of the fighting and 100 houses were damaged or destroyed, she said.
The interior ministry in the capital, Kabul, said its own team which would include two generals had yet to leave for Shindand to investigate.
The figures are the highest for civilians killed in military operations in Afghanistan in months.
About 1,000 angry protesters claimed civilians were among the dead in a demonstration on Monday in which government offices in Shindand district centre were torched.
The coalition said that US Special Forces, Afghan soldiers and other coalition members had responded to an attack in Zerkoh Friday by more than 70 Taliban fighters with ground and air fire.
The clashes left 49 Taliban and a US soldier dead, it said.
On Sunday the security forces attacked Taliban fighting positions, including with bombing raids. Another 87 Taliban fighters were killed during the 14-hour engagement, it said.
A spokesman for the US Central Command told AFP Tuesday it had received no reports of civilian casualties in the fighting.
"Every precaution was taken to prevent injury to Afghan civilians during both battles, and no civilian casualties were reported," said Major David Small.
"If any reports are made through official channels, they will be investigated," he said, adding that to his knowledge no investigation into alleged civilian deaths was under way.
President Hamid Karzai said in Kabul Wednesday civilians casualties in the military operations were unacceptable.
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Afghan miners dream of fortune in emerald mountains
Wed May 2, 2007 3:24 PM BST By Robert Birsel
KAMAR SAFAID, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An explosion booms across the Afghan mountains, bouncing off jagged ridges and setting a clatter of stones off down a slope. But this is not a Taliban bomb or a NATO strike.
Miners in the peaks above the Panjshir Valley are blowing their way into the rocks, hunting for emeralds that could make them a fortune in one of the world's poorest countries.
"If you're lucky, you could find something that would set you up for the rest of your life," Mohammad Noor, a lean miner with a whispy beard, said at his camp on a ledge above a snowfield in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Hundreds of men like Noor are searching for the green stones locked in seams of rock in the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, the old stronghold of the anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban hero Ahmed Shah Masood, a man still widely revered.
Discovered by Russian geologists in the 1970s, the emeralds are found at high elevations above the valley but only on its east side. No one seems to know why.
With four brothers and only a small piece of land to share, Noor began mining 18 years ago. He went off to fight in the war and to work in Kabul but now he's back, dreaming of striking it rich: "That's what all the fuss is about."
Independent operators have hunted the green stones through years of war, first against the Soviets and later the Taliban.
Soviet aircraft prowled the skies hunting Masood and his men in the 1980s. A rusting bomb casing lies half buried in rocks on a path down the mountain.
"Back then it was more difficult, the Russian jets bombed a lot," said miner Karam as he rested over a cup of tea in a hut at the Kamar Safaid mines, a three-hour walk above the nearest village and road.
That was when Karam made his biggest find, a stone that brought many thousands of dollars, a car and house. Times became hard during Taliban rule, when the Islamists besieged the valley but never captured it. Karam had to sell the house and car.
"It all depends on your luck," he says before trudging off to work higher up the mountain.
Afghanistan has rich deposits of gems including lapiz lazuli, rubies and emeralds, but little exploration has been done for decades and war has kept investors away.
The government is trying to control the industry but many rough stones are smuggled to Pakistan and most mining is being done by independent villagers with crude tools.
Trader Mohammad Gull, sitting at a desk laden with stones at his newly opened Kabul gem centre, said Afghan emeralds were top quality. He estimated the business was worth up to $60 million a year.
But Gull said Afghan emeralds were often damaged, especially by the blasting. "They are much better than Colombian emeralds if they're clean and clear," Gull said.
"But 99 percent are damaged," he said, holding up a clear stone laced with tiny flaws.
The miners reject that. They say they know how to place their blasting charges -- they call them bombs -- so the emeralds are not damaged.
Miners usually work in a team of six. A syndicate of 30 or so people supplies them with food, fuel and explosives.
The proceeds are split. A miner might only get a small fraction of the profits but on a big stone, that can be many thousands of dollars.
"I dream about finding the big one," said Mohammad Bakar, a hat pulled down over his ears and scarf wrapped under his chin, as he rested on a rock under a blue sky.
Rows of holes big enough for two or three men to crawl into pockmark the face of an opposite ridge. A tents clings to a mountain-side in the distance where another team is working.
Boys shout as they try to coax braying donkeys laden with supplies ever higher up a crumbing slope.
Sabzuddin, at 15 the youngest member of Noor's team, started out as a donkey driver five years ago. He's not interested in eking out a living as a farmer.
"If you find an emerald it would be better than any job in America," he says.
The work is dangerous. One of Noor's brothers was injured in a blast and later died.
In a cave in the rocks where telltale signs of green have been found, Noor and his men prepare their bombs.
One man uses a pneumatic drill to bore two holes. They pack in dynamite, light a fuse and get clear.
Two blasts shake the mountain and Noor and his men crowd back, bringing down fractured slabs of stone with crowbars.
One man wields a sledgehammer, breaking stones apart. He checks them and tosses them aside. They find nothing.
"I'm a little disappointed but this has happened before," Noor said. "We have to keep going."
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Over tea, Afghan prisoners describe torture
Warden keeps watchful eye as Taliban operatives speak
The Toronto Star May 02, 2007 Rosie DiManno
KANDAHAR–They've been to hell and survived it. Now they're in prison purgatory and blessedly thankful for it.
In this purgatory – Sarposa Provincial Prison, the largest and central detention facility in Kandahar province – there's even tea with the warden in his office and candy in a crystal goblet, a pleasant if suspiciously contrived tableau.
A damn sight better than whippings with electric cables and hanging upside down from metal hooks in the ceiling, limbs bound, or trussed and shackled in cages so constrictive a grown man couldn't stand upright – all torture allegedly inflicted during an earlier period of incarceration in the notorious National Directorate of Security headquarters across town.
These two inmates, both convicted as Taliban operatives – completely innocent, they each insist – have been summoned here to be interviewed by the Star, which was provided unrestricted access to the jail yesterday afternoon by the chief warden, Col. Abdul Qadar.
Mohammed Nadar, 43, is serving a seven-year sentence; Amadullah, 35, is down for 14 years.
They're wearing traditional Afghan garb rather than prison uniforms. Neither exhibits any outward sign of injury. Those scars have healed, they say, since being transferred to Sarposa from the widely feared NDS, this country's intelligence police agency, usually mentioned only in whispers.
"I never saw any injuries when they got here," Qadar is quick to interject.
"If they were hurt, they would have received medical attention immediately. They didn't need it."
Unlike some detainees – by no means the majority – Nadar and Amadullah never passed through Canadian hands on their way to NDS interrogation. But others at the prison did – and there are 136 men in the cells who are NDS transfers, political prisoners, out of a jail population of about 800. By law, the NDS can keep detainees for only 72 hours after which they must apply to the Ministry of the Attorney General for permission to extend that custody where warranted. Ultimately, all the prisoners are transferred to Sarposa.
The alleged torment of detainees at the un-tender mercies of the NDS has triggered a firestorm in Ottawa, with accusations that Canada is complicit in their abuse because they were turned over by Canadian troops as per a transfer agreement signed with Afghanistan in 2005.
Public outrage seems reserved only for those Afghans – some merely denounced as Taliban, others convicted of Taliban-related crimes – who landed in the mash-pit of the NDS after being taken into custody by Canadian soldiers, following precise adherence to detainee orders. There appears little pity for the vast majority of prisoners who routinely – according to human rights organizations – suffer horrendous mistreatment in custody, in this severely punitive society, but lack the political grenade of even peripheral contact with Canadian troops. Their miserable fate apparently doesn't trouble the Canadian conscience. Hands clean on them.
"I was kept for six months in a cage that was less than 2 metres wide, with two other prisoners," says Amadullah. "I thought, I will die in here. And for what? I've never even been presented with an arrest warrant."
Oddly, Amadullah doesn't consider his hideous detention in the basement of the NDS building as torture per se. "I can't say anyone beat me. But it is cruel to treat a human being like an animal."
A tailor by trade, Amadullah was accused of being a Taliban operative – not inherently a crime – and stealing $85,000 from the brother of a man, Rafar, who just happens to be one of the lead NDS investigators, an individual whose very name strikes fear in the heart of Afghans.
"The robbery was eight months before they arrested me. And I still have not been before a judge. But the NDS says my sentence is 14 years."
He's filed an appeal, which has disappeared into the black hole of the Afghan justice system, despite the best intentions – in Kandahar – of Canadian corrections officials who work through the Provincial Reconstruction Team as mentors to prison administrators and have long paid weekly visits to Sarposa.
Mohammed, in contrast to Amadullah, tells a more gruesome tale of the interrogation methods used against him by the NDS. His crime – and conviction in sharia court – arose from denouncement as a Taliban militant who provided weapons for violent assaults against Afghanistan's security forces.
"They put me on the ground with an iron rod stretched across my back and my arms tied like this," says Mohammed, stretching his hands wide, as if on a crucifix. "They whipped me with rubber hoses. Another time, they used a chain to hang me from the ceiling, my head towards the floor. Always they kept saying: Tell us the truth! Tell us what you know!
"And I would scream at them, what do you want me to say? Tell me, and I will say it. Because, after a while, you are ready to say anything, just to make them stop. But I don't know what they were looking for from me."
A friend of 10 years, Mohammed admits, was an active Taliban fighter, who even scared him with his radical fervour. But Mohammed maintains he was never personally involved with such extremist activities and fell into the clutches of the NDS only when he was called to Mirwais hospital under the pretext that his brother had been injured.
"They arrested me and for 18 days I was tortured. Then, after I had recovered, they sent me here."
Both say they were aware of Canadian officials and International Red Cross representatives visiting the NDS facility but were never allowed to speak with them. And both claim – albeit with the warden looking on – that they have been treated humanely since arriving at Sarposa, their relatives allowed to visit and bring them extra food.
Col. Qadar says that he has been dismayed over the eruption of the prisoner abuse story and how it's reflected poorly on Sarposa. While he can't vouch for other smaller jails around Kandahar province, and certainly won't speak for the NDS treatment of detainees, he insists no abuse has occurred in this facility in the two years since he's been in charge.
"These allegations are a slap in the face to us, without any rhyme or reason. We have tried so hard, with the help of the Canadians at the PRT, to reform the prison system in Afghanistan. We don't hit prisoners, we don't slap prisoners, we don't disrespect prisoners. All the time, we are monitored by humanitarian agencies and the Red Cross. Even your defence minister came here to visit a few months ago and he approved of what he saw."
It is for these reasons, to refute allegations of torture on his watch, that Qadar opened the prison to the Star.
"Tell everyone, if they want to come and see how we treat prisoners, they are all welcome.
"My job is to treat these people like human beings because that's what they are, no matter what they've done in the past. In my jail, they are safe."
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Iran deports thousands of Afghans
By Frances Harrison BBC News, Tehran Wednesday, 2 May 2007
More than 36,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran in the past 10 days, the UN refugee agency says.
The move has virtually cleared the south-eastern Iranian border town of Zabol of its Afghan population.
Iran says it has collected 50,000 Afghans for deportation, and argues it is the right of every country to send home illegal workers.
Iran is estimated to have more than a million illegal Afghan workers, and slightly fewer registered refugees.
Although the numbers seem to have slowed down a bit in the past few days, the sheer scale and speed of the deportations has caused problems.
Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi told the state-run news agency that 50,000 illegal Afghans have been collected for deportation in the past 10 days.
But he does not say how many have actually been sent across the border.
But the UN says they know of about 36,000 deportations in the same period, and their figures come from monitoring the border crossing points.
Mr Pour-Mohammadi said Iran had warned the illegal workers in February that they would be sent back, but unfortunately they failed to prepare for leaving.
He denied that families had been divided in the deportation process and said Iran had allowed 4,000 of the Afghans they had rounded up to remain because of problems they faced.
The UN says 20,000 of those deported come from the south-eastern border town of Zabol.
They say that on the Afghan side of the border initially there was not enough food or water or health facilities to cope with the influx, but that has now been provided.
Iran is estimated to have up to one and a half million illegal Afghan workers who do the most dangerous and dirty jobs with little legal protection.
There are also just under a million registered refugees.
Tehran says some 300,000 of those refugees will be eligible to apply for work visas to return to Iran, if they first go back to Afghanistan.
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Troops 'kill five in Afghanistan'
Wednesday, 2 May 2007 BBC News
US-led coalition forces and Afghan police have shot dead five militants in a clash in southern Helmand province, a coalition statement says.
Three vehicles came speeding towards the checkpoint in Zara Kalay village and failed to stop, the statement said.
Eight militants came out of the cars and started firing - troops returned fire, killing five, it said.
Violence has surged in recent weeks. About 4,000 people were killed in Afghanistan last year.
The south of the country is a stronghold of the Taleban and has seen an increasing number of attacks by insurgents over the past year.
The US-led coalition statement said the three remaining militants in the Helmand clash managed to escape.
Neither coalition forces nor Afghan police had suffered any casualties, it said. It added that there were no Afghan civilians in the vehicles used by the militants.
There have been protests by Afghans in different parts of the country in recent days over allegations that civilians have been killed in operations against the Taleban and their allies.
Across Afghanistan, bloodshed has returned to levels not seen since the fall of the Taleban in 2001. A quarter of those killed last year are believed to have been civilians.
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Five Afghan soldiers killed rescuing Czech diplomat
Middle East Times May 2, 2007
KABUL -- Five soldiers and seven militants were killed in fighting that erupted when security forces went to rescue a Czech diplomat who came under fire in eastern Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.
The Afghan military forces responded to a call for help after the charge d'affaires of the Czech embassy in Kabul was fired on by gunmen while he was traveling through eastern Paktia province, a provincial spokesman said.
The diplomat, Filip Velach, was unhurt but two of his bodyguards were injured in the attack in Zurmat district, Din Mohammad Darwish said.
"Fighting erupted after the soldiers arrived in the area. Five soldiers and seven Taliban were killed in the fighting," Darwish said, adding that the battle lasted more than one hour.
The men had taken refuge in a house before the troops arrived, the spokesman said.
A Czech foreign ministry spokeswoman said that the three put out a distress call to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). They were taken by helicopter to a US military base.
Velach has been heading the Czech diplomatic mission in Kabul since mid-April. Around 180 Czech soldiers are serving in ISAF.
Paktia, on the border with Pakistan, is among the provinces in Afghanistan that sees regular violence blamed on Taliban insurgents, with several incidents reported around Zurmat.
In a separate incident, five Taliban were killed after about eight rebels attacked a joint Afghan and coalition checkpost in southern Kandahar just before midnight, the US-led coalition said.
"Eight insurgents came out from the vehicles and started firing on the checkpoint. Afghan border police and coalition forces returned fire, killing five of them," it said in a statement.
In another incident linked to an advancing Taliban insurgency, Afghan and coalition forces detained a suspected organizer of suicide attacks in a raid in southeastern Khost province Wednesday, a separate statement said.
There are more than 50,000 NATO and US-led troops in Afghanistan fighting Taliban insurgents alongside Afghan army and police.
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'Lack of vehicles' in Afghanistan
Wednesday, 2 May 2007 BBC News
A serious shortage of patrol vehicles is hampering operations in Afghanistan, British commanders have told the BBC.
BBC correspondent Alastair Leithead said a lack of heavily armoured Land Rovers was a particular problem.
Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, spokesman in Helmand province, said only 126 of the 170 needed were in working order.
The Ministry of Defence insisted troops were properly equipped to do their job.
The complaints came just a day after UK forces took control of Afghanistan's southern provinces as part of the Nato mission there.
British soldiers are involved in Operation Silicon to drive Taleban fighters out of opium-producing areas.
Armoured Land Rovers - or WMIKs (weapons-mounted installation kits) - are used to protect soldiers while out on patrol or operations.
Mr Leithead, who is embedded with British troops, said an average of one of these vehicles a week was being lost and replacements sent from the UK often arrived late.
Lt Col Mayo said the WMIKs were taking "a hell of a hammering" in the hot and dusty conditions and said the situation was "tight, but not critical yet".
A fifth of the fleet is damaged or has been destroyed by enemy fire, he added, but more would be arriving soon.
Another vehicle, a Pinzgauer, has been fitted with extra armour to try to cover the shortfall, but there is a limit to the number of men and the amount of equipment they can carry, our correspondent said.
And the strain was increased because extra troops had recently been deployed without extra vehicles, he added.
A spokesman for the MoD denied there was a shortage and said huge investments had been made in equipment for the Army.
"The success of our forces against the Taleban shows that they are not only among the best in the world, but also among the best equipped," he said.
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Aid agency chief urges Afghan change
Deutsche Welle May 2, 2007
The head of a leading German aid organization has called for a change in political strategy for Afghanistan. Hans-Joachim Preuß, Secretary General of German Agro Action, made the comment following the murder of a second of its relief workers in northern Afghanistan in two months. Preuß said that his agency had been unsuccessful in attempting to move Afghan society out of the middle ages and into modern democracy within only a few years. He is calling on the Kabul government to reach a national consensus with the Taliban and Iran to enable NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.
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Canada got early warning of abuses
Rights group raised alarm in Ottawa last year about trouble in Afghan prisons
The Toronto Star May 01, 2007 Bruce Campion-Smith Tonda maccharles OTTAWA BUREAU
OTTAWA–Foreign affairs staff directly involved with overseeing Canada's Afghan mission were told last year about disturbing reports of growing human rights abuses within Afghan detention facilities.
Sam Zarifi, of Human Rights Watch, says he personally delivered that message when he met with Canadian officials on the "Afghanistan desk" at foreign affairs headquarters in Ottawa in the latter part of 2006.
He says he drove home his agency's fears surrounding Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the country's intelligence police, who often take charge of prisoners nabbed by Canadian troops serving in Kandahar.
"We told them that we are worried that the NDS is becoming increasingly involved and that the NDS is increasingly abusive and that they should be careful about it," Zarifi recalled yesterday.
Also yesterday, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day revealed that Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar had heard at least two first-hand allegations of torture.
After a week of denying knowledge of any "specific" claims of abuse, Day said, in response to a reporter's question, "Yes, they have actually talked to detainees about the possibility if they were tortured or not.
"They actually had a couple of incidents where detainees said they were."
Day couldn't say when the allegations came to light or if the detainees had been captured by Canadians. Nor did he say if Canada followed up the charges.
The government has been under fierce pressure in the last week after media reports that some prisoners nabbed by Canadians have been abused after being transferred into the custody of Afghan security forces.
But again yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper cast doubt on the reports.
"For a long time there have been vague allegations. We need specific evidence," Harper said in question period.
Zarifi said he also bluntly told the Canadians that NATO allies had been ill-prepared for their role in seizing detainees.
"We didn't feel that NATO as a whole and Canada in particular had done all they could to prepare for becoming a detainee-holding power and that they should do more," he said.
He declined to name the officials he met with, saying "I don't want to put them on the spot," but said they seemed receptive.
"We got what we felt was a pretty positive response. Everybody said, `Yes, we note your concerns and we'll try to address it,'" said Zarifi, research director for the agency's Asia division.
The visit with Canadians was part of a concerted effort by the organization to draw the attention of Canada, and other countries active in Afghanistan, to worrying reports of abuse at the hands of NDS.
Last July, for example, Zarifi and other representatives took their message to NATO officials, including Canadians, in both Brussels and Kabul.
Those concerns were based on the agency's own observers in Afghanistan, Zarifi said, adding, "we were hearing increasing complaints about the NDS behaviour."
He said both the British and Dutch forces, serving alongside Canadians in southern Afghanistan, took encouraging action to ensure their troops could make follow-up visits to prisoners they had handed over to Afghan custody.
"Canadians didn't and that's a mystery.
"We know that one of the main suggestions we had, namely that they have to monitor the detainees, was not taken onboard," Zarifi said.
The agency's 2006 overview of Afghanistan makes note of deteriorating situation in the troubled nation.
"By late 2006, Afghanistan was on the precipice of again becoming a haven for human rights abusers, criminals, and militant extremists, many of whom in the past have severely abused Afghans," it read.
Last fall, the agency sent a letter to NATO warning it had received "credible reports" of detainees being abused by the National Directorate of Security.
The letter was addressed to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and copied to the foreign ministers of NATO countries. However, officials with MacKay's office said last night they had no record of ever receiving the letter.
"In some cases the treatment amounted to torture," wrote Brad Adams, the executive director of the agency's Asia division, in the letter.
Written as NATO leaders gathered for a summit in Riga, Latvia, Adams urged the military alliance to investigate the allegations of prisoner abuse and "pay considerable attention to the deteriorating human rights situation" in Afghanistan.
While the organization can't confirm the facts behind the recent reports of prisoner abuse that have caused a political firestorm in Canada "they do match reports of behaviour by the NDS," Zarifi said.
"A behaviour that we had warned NATO about."
Yesterday, Liberals used the Human Rights Watch letter to demand action from the Conservatives on the Afghan detainee issue.
Harper told the Commons his government would assist Afghan officials with their own probe of the abuse charges, a comment that sparked ridicule from opposition benches.
"We're going to let the Afghans inquire into their own practice of torture?" said Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.
Last night, MPs voted 225 to 28 against an NDP motion calling for an immediate end to Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan. The vote followed one last week when the NDP helped the Tories defeat a Liberal attempt to ensure the combat mission ends in 2009. The NDP said at the time it couldn't vote for anything other than an immediate withdrawal of combat forces.
With files from Canadian Press
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13 air transport companies obtain license in Afghanistan
Xinhua / April 30, 2007
The Afghan government has issued licenses for 13 air transport companies in the post-Taliban Afghanistan, a local newspaper reported Monday.
In addition to Afghanistan National flag carrier the Ariana and the private aviation firm the Kam Air, 11 more air transport companies have obtained licenses from the Ministry for Transport, Daily Cheragh said.
Eight more transport companies have applied for licenses, it further added.
Majority of these firms are joint venture with foreigners particularly from the United States, Germany and Russia, Daily Cheragh said.
Nevertheless, the Kabul International Airport as well as other airstrips in the provinces is not so equipped to facilitate the taking off and landing of passenger planes.
The Afghan government in the post-Taliban central Asian state has encouraged private sector to play key role in rebuilding of the war-torn Afghanistan.
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Hillier thought he was doing the 'right thing'
TENILLE BONOGUORE - Globe and Mail Update May 2, 2007
The Chief of Defence Staff says he believed he was doing the right thing by signing a detainee transfer agreement that did not allow Canadians to verify the safe treatment of prisoners once they were put in Afghan custody.
Speaking from Kandahar, Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier said the agreement would have been made regardless of his involvement back in 2005. “I signed it, in the presence of the ambassador who would have signed it had I not been here,” Gen. Hillier said.
“Truly at the time we thought that was the right thing to do, that it was the right approach. Obviously we'll reassess that as allegations come out that perhaps that was not sufficient.”
Gen. Hillier said he was made aware that prisoners handed over by Canadians were abused while in Afghan custody shortly before the revelations were made public in The Globe and Mail last week.
He said he was not aware of earlier reports that there was abuse of detainees. “The allegations are there. An investigation will decide if there's substance to them,” he said.
The question of who knew what, when, has turned into a bitter political squabble, dominating political debate in Ottawa and generating calls for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor to resign and for the transfer of prisoners to cease until their safety is assured.
Senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs say the department was “not consulted” when Canada struck its detainee-transfer deal in 2005. Last week, a defence official said foreign affairs staff were too busy “going to their cocktail parties and eating little shrimps” to help the embattled Mr. O'Connor.
The deal has become mired in controversy because it includes no follow-up role for Canada on the fate of detainees in Afghanistan's notoriously brutal prison system.
The Globe investigation, based on 30 face-to-face interviews with men recently captured in Kandahar province, uncovered a range of horrific stories and a clear pattern of abuse by Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops. Some of the allegations were made by four men, whose names were published, and who were originally detained by Canadian forces.
None of the abuse was inflicted by Canadians, and most Afghans captured — even Taliban sympathizers — praised the Canadian soldiers for their politeness, their gentle handling of captives and conditions in their detention facility.
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Al Qaeda a threat to Pakistan govt: US
Dawn (Pakistan) - By Anwar Iqbal
WASHINGTON, April 30: Al Qaeda’s continued calls for the overthrow of President Gen Pervez Musharraf remained a threat to Pakistan, despite the government’s efforts to eliminate AQ elements, says a US State Department report released on Monday.
About 900 Pakistanis lost their lives in more than 650 terror attacks in 2006, with another 1,500 people seriously injured, says the report which was sent to the US Congress as a policy paper.
“Pakistan also remains a major source of Islamic extremism and a safe haven for some top terrorist leaders,” the report warned.
The State Department noted that Pakistan continued to pursue AQ and its allies aggressively through nationwide police action and military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The report, however, pointed out that “despite having approximately 80,000 troops in the FATA, including Army and Frontier Corps units, the Government of Pakistan has been unable to exert control over the area.” The report acknowledged that Pakistan executed effective counterterrorism cooperation and captured or killed many terrorists during 20006-07.
US welcomes Pak-Afghan talks - Associated Press of Pakistan
- The Post, Wednesday, May 02, 2007
WASHINGTON: A senior US official has welcomed the meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Turkey, where the two leaders vowed to fight terrorism through cooperative efforts.
"We're very pleased that presidents Karzai and Musharraf were able to meet in Turkey, just finished up, and this is also something that we hope we'll be able to build on in the future," Frank C. Urbancic, Acting Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, remarked at the State Department Monday afternoon.
In answer to a question at a briefing on the release of 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism, the official said both Pakistan and Afghanistan are allies in the war on terror and added the United States is working to help them in establishing their complete control in border areas.
"Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror, Afghanistan is an ally in the war on terror -- we are working very strongly with those allies to help them establish control in those areas," Urbancic stated. The United States, he said, has very close cooperation with President Musahrraf and the Pakistani government in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan, he noted, maintains approximately 80,000 troops, including army and Frontier Corps units along the Afghanistan border.
He added the United States plans to help "modernize and increase the capacity of the Frontier Corps so that they can become a more effective force."
In the context of ensuring control and security in the border areas, he said "there are multiple ways that this has to be addressed. It has to be addressed on the economic side. It has to be addressed on the military side. It also has to be addressed on the social side."
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All Afghan refugees to be repatriated: Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, April 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pakistan has reiterated that four refugee camps in NWFP and Balochistan provinces, bordering Afghanistan, will be closed on schedule.
Kacha Garhi and Jalozai camps in the NWFP and Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle in Balochistan would be wound up and their dwellers repatriated to Afghanistan, a minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind told Dawn newspaper a process had already been set in motion to repatriate about 2.9 million Afghan refugees, including 300,000 unregistered, in the next three years.
He pointed out 205,000 unregistered Afghans had already returned to their homeland under a special scheme over the last six months. The repatriation cost $20 million, of which $15 million were provided by the UN refugee agency.
Rind said the government, determined to send back all the refugees to their country, was in contact with Kabul and the UNHCR to ensure their smooth repatriation.
A decision on closing the four refugee camp had been taken at the 12th Tripartite Commission meeting held among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN refugee agency.
Katchagari and Jungle Pir Alizai camps will be closed by June 15 while Jalozai and Girdi Jungle camps will be wound up by August 31.
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