U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has echoed international calls for increased foreign troops in Afghanistan. Ms. Robinson says the troops are needed to stem ongoing violence and human-rights abuses.

"What really struck me was that the biggest human rights issue in Afghanistan is human security," she told reporters in neighboring Pakistan after a visit to Kabul and the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif. "And there is a need for the international force ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) to be extended beyond Kabul and to other cities, in order to give time and space to build up the national army and national police force and re-enforce these measures."

After the fall of the Taleban regime about 4,000 international troops, led by Britain, arrived in Kabul to improve security. They are confined to the Afghan capital and limited to a mandate of six-months.

Ms. Robinson's call for expanding the force follows similar pleas from other U.N. officials and human-rights groups concerned about deteriorating security conditions in northern Afghanistan.

Ms. Robinson says that during her trip to northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif, ethnic Pashtuns told her that they have been sexually abused, physically beaten, and many have been driven from their villages.

"I was in Mazar-e-Sharif. I was particularly focusing on the violations of human rights of Pashtuns and population there," she said. "And I met a number of men and also went to the home of a woman who put forward a very serious situation of rape of both herself and her two daughters aged 14 and 12 and other women with similar stories. So there is an ongoing human-rights problem."

A spokesman for the interim Afghan government in Kabul told reporters the reports of human-rights abuses against the Pashtun community in northern Afghanistan are exaggerated. But he says the government is trying to determine if they are true.