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Red Cross Urges Afghan Fighters to Protect Civilians

The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a strong appeal to Afghan combatants to protect captives and civilians. The organization says it is especially concerned about the welfare of people in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

The Red Cross says it is helping to bury large numbers of dead in Mazar-e-Sherif.

Last week, Northern Alliance forces ousted Taleban troops from the city and much of the surrounding area. Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari said it is still unclear whether the dead are civilians or soldiers, but what is clear is that there are "a significant number" of corpses.

Ms. Notari said the International Committee of the Red Cross, a private agency that is not affiliated with the United Nations, could not comment on a recent U.N. report that Northern Alliance forces had killed more than 100 young Taleban recruits hiding in a school in Mazar-e-Sharif.

She said the Red Cross is calling on all Afghan military leaders to respect the international rules of warfare on prisoners of war and civilian populations. "These are such delicate, highly dangerous moments and only the combatants and commanders of the combatants can really ensure that the people that are captured are protected and treated well, the people that are wounded are given the necessary assistance, and that civilians and their property are spared any harm," she said.

Ms. Notari says that with the rapid territorial changes in Afghanistan, the Red Cross is concerned about the possible breakdown in law and order throughout the country.