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UNHCR: Inquiry Needed Into Killings of Taleban Prisoners in Mazar - 2001-11-30

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, says she wants an inquiry into the killings of Taleban prisoners at a fort in Afghanistan, amid allegations some of the men were shot execution-style. The British government says an inquiry is not necessary.

The U.N. human rights chief, Mary Robinson, told a London news conference Friday there are serious questions to be answered about this week's prisoner rebellion in Afghanistan.

She spoke as London newspapers published photos of some dead Taleban prisoners whose hands were tied behind their back. They were allegedly shot at close range during an uprising at the Qalai Janghi fort at Mazar-e-Sharif.

Mrs. Robinson said she wants Amnesty International and other human rights groups to investigate the killings. "I am very troubled by the reports that we have heard. I don't think anybody as yet knows the full story. We do know that there are some 600 or so dead. It is a clear situation where it would help greatly to have an inquiry into the facts," she said.

But the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, says the killings occurred in the heat of battle and an inquiry is not necessary, as he explained on British radio Friday. "Well, we see no need for an inquiry at the moment. The situation there was absolutely terrible. Everybody accepts that. That there was this slaughter of prisoners. But this is not some easy, Western circumstance. Frankly, the idea that in the very difficult circumstances of Mazar-e-Sharif, we could put in a judicial inquiry, I think, doesn't connect to the reality on the ground," Mr. Straw said.

Amnesty International said Britain's stand raises questions about its commitment to the rule of law, and could lead to impunity for abuses against other prisoners in the future.

U.S., British and Afghan opposition authorities have said the mostly-foreign Taleban prisoners at the fort managed to overpower their guards and seize the armory at the outset of the rebellion last Sunday.

U.S. personnel called in air strikes. One officer of the Central Intelligence Agency was killed and five U.S. soldiers were wounded. It took three days to quell the rebellion.