- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Working for reconciliation at the urging of the prime minister, a warlord yesterday freed a third group of prisoners captured months ago during fighting with the Taliban militia and held in a crowded prison in northern Afghanistan.

Also yesterday, British marines got into their first firefight since arriving in Afghanistan in April. None of the marines was injured.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council yesterday voted unanimously to keep international troops in Kabul for six more months but rejected pleas from Afghanistan's leaders to expand the force throughout the war-battered country.

The U.S.-sponsored resolution extends the authorization for the nearly 4,500-member International Security Assistance Force after its initial six-month mandate ends June 20. It also welcomes the transfer of its command from Britain to Turkey, expected around the same date.

Three attackers in a car opened fire on an elite British reconnaissance team near the eastern city of Khost, Lt. Col. Ben Curry said. The 12 marines returned fire, hitting two of the attackers. Soon afterward, a second vehicle pulled up and two wounded men were loaded into it, apparently along with the third attacker.

Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who controls the prison in Shibergan, put 512 men on buses to Kabul, said Faiz Zaki, Gen. Dostum's spokesman. All were Afghans, mostly ethnic Pashtuns from the south, he said.

Another northern Afghan commander, Atta Mohammed, released eight ethnic Uzbeks one Afghan and seven citizens of Uzbekistan who had been held for six months in a jail in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after being captured by forces battling the Taliban.

The eight were handed over to Uzbek officials at the Hairaton border crossing, Mr. Mohammed said. An Uzbek Interior Ministry official confirmed the handover.

Yesterday's prisoner release left 600 Afghans and 600 Pakistanis still incarcerated in the Shibergan prison, infamous for its poor conditions and lack of food, Mr. Zaki said.

Gen. Dostum, who is also a deputy defense minister in the interim Afghan administration, freed more than 200 inmates earlier this month and 800 more earlier this week after an appeal by interim leader Hamid Karzai. More than 200 were returned to their native Pakistan while 600 went home to southern Afghanistan.

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