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November 17, 2001
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Northern Alliance shows no mercy to foreign soldiers

Shyam Bhatia in Dushanbe

As the Northern Alliance consolidates its military gains across the scarred landscape, the fate of some 5,000 Taleban fighters who are holding out in the northern city of Kunduz, hangs in the balance.

Apart from Kunduz, Kandahar, in the south of the country and considered the spiritual capital of the Taleban, is another important theater of war.

A Taleban envoy in Pakistan is trying to negotiate a ceasefire and a peaceful surrender for his fighters, but senior officers of the surrounding Alliance forces are divided over what terms would be acceptable.

A surrender was worked out on November 15, but the Taleban pulled out when the Northern Alliance refused to offer the same terms for the foreign soldiers with the former.

Northern Alliance Deputy Defense Minister Atiqullah Baryalai said ordinary Taleban fighters are being influenced by foreign commanders, who he described as Chechens, Arabs, Uzbeks and Pakistanis.

"They are apparently determined to fight," Baryalai said. "We have asked them to surrender without conditions, under a general amnesty declared by the Islamic State, according to which we guarantee them safety. But they still insist on resistance and fighting, especially the foreigners in their ranks who have taken command. And they have taken the people of Kunduz hostage, including children, men, and women."

General Mohammed Dawood, one of the Alliance commanders near Kunduz, said he would not negotiate with non-Afghan Taleban members, whom he accused of playing a role in the assassination of the Alliance's leader, Ahmed Shah Masoud, on September 9. "There will be no negotiations," he said. "We will not deal with them. They are killers."

The Alliance has so far paraded one captured Taleban fighter, one Chechen and one Pakistani whom they are holding in an improvised jail outside the city.

United Nations officials expressed fears for the safety of the besieged Taleban forces inside Kunduz. They believe more than 500 Taleban soldiers were killed by Alliance forces when they refused to surrender after the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif on November 10.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, addressing the House of Commons in London on November 15, appealed to the Alliance to cooperate with the UN and refrain from acts of reprisal.

Blair's appeal came just before an Alliance fighter described how he personally executed five Taleban prisoners. Abdul Raqib told journalists at Bagram air base north of Kabul that he killed the men in retaliation for the deaths of his father and brother who died at Taleban hands.

Raqib described an encounter in the Kabul neighborhood of Qalai Fatula between Alliance fighters and a Taleban force, which included about 100 Arabs and Pakistanis.

Twenty-two of the foreign fighters were killed, most of them in combat, but Raqib said he personally executed five of them after they were captured.

"I made them stand in a line, and then I fired. I was so angry," Raqib said.

He explained how the Taleban captured him two years earlier. When he escaped from prison, they killed his brother and father in reprisal. He added that he also wanted revenge for Masoud's death.

In New York, Northern Alliance ambassador Ravan Farhadi told the UN General Assembly that Alliance forces had been forced to deploy a limited number of police forces in Kabul to prevent mayhem in the capital. He admitted there had been some cases of "ill-treatment," but he said these were isolated incidents.

For those Taleban soldiers and their allies who manage to slip through Alliance lines, there are few safety outlets. Russian soldiers have sealed the borders of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Iranian border is also tightly patrolled although access through the Iranian desert is said to be possible.

Many fleeing Taleban fighters have managed to slip through into Pakistan from across the North West crossing at Chaman. According to one report at least 80 truck loads of Taleban fighters have so far escaped through the Chaman checkpoint.

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