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Afghans say bloody Kabul prison siege over

Written by: Staff
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PUL-I-CHARKHI, Afghanistan, March 1 (Reuters) A bloody jail siege in Afghanistan ended today after all 1,300 prisoners involved in a riot that broke out at the weekend moved to a new block under police control, the government said.

''All the prisoners, including the political ones have been moved to another block,'' Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai told reporters.

''The agitation is over. The police are now in full control of the prison.'' Five people died in the unrest led by Taliban prisoners at Pul-i-Charkhi jail on Kabul's outskirts that erupted after prisoners were issued uniforms to prevent a repeat of a January escape by seven Taliban who mingled with visitors.

Talks aimed at ending the siege broke down yesterday and Sibghatullah Mojadidi, a former president who has headed talks with the prisoners, warned authorities were ready to use force.

Troops backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers surrounded the jail after the riot broke out on Saturday night. They included soldiers from the US-led force battling the Taliban as well as NATO peacekeepers.

Hashimzai said the body of an Afghan prisoner was found in the damaged cell block today, bringing the death toll from the siege to five. Another 30 prisoners were wounded in police attempts to subdue the riot.

Hashimzai said three Americans held at the jail since 2004 after being convicted of illegally detaining and torturing men in a freelance war on terror were all safe.

One of the three, American journalist Edward Caraballo, said yestersday night that Taliban militants had threatened to behead him if an attempt were made to end the siege by force.

Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which assisted negotiations, said riot ringleaders included Timoor Shah, who kidnapped then freed an Italian aid worker last year and is under sentence of death.

Police identified Taliban commanders who led the unrest as Mullah Mujadid and Mullah Shahidzai as said al Qaeda militants held at the jail were also involved.

Nadery said about 200 of the Taliban prisoners, including some Pakistanis, were being held without trial and had demanded to be tried or freed.

He said conditions at the prison had improved in the past two years, with regular visits by rights monitors, but the siege showed the need for the US-backed government to formulate legislation to deal with Taliban suspects caught in combat.

''It doesn't have the authority to keep people so long without trial even if they are called 'enemies of Afghanistan','' he said.

The imposing, high-walled jail at Pul-i-Charkhi, where thousands of Afghans who opposed communist rule were killed and tortured in the 1980s, has been the scene of unrest before.

In the most recent previous incident, four policemen and four inmates died in a siege when militants attempted a breakout in December 2004.

REUTERS KD PM2025

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