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Taleban, al-Qaida Prisoners in Afghanistan Threaten Hunger Strike - 2004-05-01


Former Taleban and al-Qaida fighters held at a prison in northern Afghanistan are reported to have gone on a hunger strike to demand their release.

Provincial Governor Rozmohammed Noor has told VOA that the prisoners, many of them Pakistani nationals, say they will starve themselves to death if they are not released soon from Shibergan prison. Inmates at the facility - located near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif - are also reported to have staged a protest in the prison yard.

Some 900 prisoners have been held in the facility since 2001, when they were captured fighting to defend Afghanistan's former Taleban regime.

In addition to the hunger strike, prisoners reported to be suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases have refused to take their medicine.

The governor says officials in Kabul are now considering moving the inmates to a prison near the capital.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad says Afghanistan still intends to parole prisoners who pose no further risk to society. He says former Pakistani combatants will be deported home once a screening process is finished, but he says that will take some time.

"We need to go through the process as soon as possible and finish it in a prompt manner, but making sure that we do not release the most dangerous elements back into society,"said Omar Samad.

He said there is currently no firm timetable for the prisoner release.

Some human rights groups have criticized conditions inside Shibergan Prison.

Mr. Samad said while the prison is a rough place, the Afghan authorities are seeking to ensure conditions are not "sub-human."

"Obviously, this is not the most luxurious prison in the world," he said. "These are individuals who were caught armed and fighting against Afghanistan alongside Taleban [and] al-Qaida."

Meanwhile, Mr. Samad says Afghanistan has sent a message of concern to Pakistan over the fate of an Afghan journalist in custody there.

The reporter, Sami Yousafzai, was detained along with an American journalist for attempting to enter Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency without official permission.

The U.S. national was deported last month, and the Afghan government is seeking Mr. Yousafzai's transfer to Afghanistan.

Mr. Yousafzai had been living in Pakistan as a refugee. Earlier this year, two French reporters arrested for traveling without permission were also deported.

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