- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

U.S.-backed warlords said to harm captives

PATTAN, Pakistan A Pakistani arrested in Afghanistan by pro-U.S. forces after the fall of the Taliban last year has described being transported in suffocating trucks that he said killed 50 of his cohorts.

Mohammad Sagheer, the first Pakistani prisoner released from U.S. detention at Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, told reporters on returning to his village here this week he would never forget the horror of his experience.

"I was arrested by the forces of Rashid Dostum, soon after the fall of the Taliban in Kunduz," said Mr. Sagheer, 60. "I was packed with 250 other arrested people in a metal container to be shifted from Kunduz to Sherbaghan," the base of Gen. Dostum, a member of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.

"Some 50 people died in the container due to suffocation," said Mr. Sagheer. His account supported an August report in Newsweek magazine that said 1,000 Taliban prisoners may have died of asphyxiation in container trucks while being transferred from Kunduz to Sherbaghan.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, Afghanistan, where international peacekeepers are stationed, Human Rights Watch said the foreign troops should be deployed across the country to restrain warlords. The group said Ismail Khan, governor of Herat, ordered political arrests and beatings all this year. Some prisoners were hung upside down, whipped or tortured with electric shocks, it said.

"The use of warlords to provide security in the short term, instead of international peacekeepers, is the weakest part of the current strategy of the United States," Human Rights Watch charged.

Student draws 14 years after solo protest

RANGOON, Burma A law student who undertook a solo protest to demand the release of political prisoners was sentenced to 14 years in jail under emergency laws imposed by the military government, lawyers said.

The verdict came Tuesday, a week after U.N. human rights envoy Paulo Pinheiro ended a 12-day tour of the country by criticizing the junta for holding political prisoners. The young man was among the 17 political prisoners met by Mr. Pinheiro inside Insein prison during his visit last month.

Thet Naung Soe, a final-year law student from Yangon, was tried in a special court at Insein prison where he is being held, the officials said. He was sentenced to two seven-year terms on two separate charges, said a lawyer who did not wish to be named.

He was arrested Aug. 18 for protesting in front of Rangoon City Hall by holding a red flag on which was printed a fighting peacock a symbol of the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hunger strike alarms activists in Kazakhstan

ALMATY, Kazakhstan Human rights activists say they are concerned about the health of a prominent Kazakh journalist on hunger strike after being charged with raping an underage girl, an accusation he says was been invented to discredit him.

Sergei Duvanov, 49, an independent journalist and human rights defender, was formally charged Wednesday and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted, said lawyer Yevgeny Zhovtis.

The health of the man, who has refused to eat or drink since Oct. 30, has drastically deteriorated, say lawyers. Doctors judged Mr. Duvanov's condition to be life-threatening and said they would begin force feeding, said Mr. Zhovtis.

Weekly notes

With winter in the air, the northern Indian hill state of Himachal Pradesh is gearing up to hold its annual mass wedding ceremony whose participants are banned from giving or accepting dowries. Bali Ram Bharadwaj, 81, a Hindu priest at the ancient Hatkoti Temple 68 miles north of the state capital, Shimla, said he expects 100 or so couples to participate in tomorrow's mass wedding. Top Tamil Tigers returned to Sri Lanka this week after achieving a breakthrough at Norwegian-brokered peace talks in Thailand. The top military commander of the Tiger rebels, Karuna, who has only one name, and the group's political leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, were taken by government military transport helicopter Wednesday to a northern area held by the guerrillas.

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