Govt hopeful of an end to prison seige
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Govt hopeful of an end to prison seige

Four prisoners have been killed and 38 hurt since over 1,000 prisoners led by Taliban took over parts of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 13:17 IST

A siege at the Afghan capital's main jail entered a fourth day on Tuesday but the government expressed hope for a peaceful resolution to a bloody revolt by hundreds of inmates.

Four prisoners have been killed and 38 wounded since more than 1,000 prisoners led by Taliban commanders and a kidnap gang leader took over parts of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison on Saturday night, prisoners told a human rights lawyer.

Troops backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers have surrounded the jail on Kabul's eastern outskirts, but numbers appeared to have declined from hundreds to dozens on Tuesday.

Authorities sent food to the prisoners on Monday as a sign of good faith after negotiations led by Sibghatullah Mojadidi, a former president who heads a state-appointed peace commission trying to encourage Taliban insurgents to lay down their arms.

On Tuesday, trucks were seen entering the prison carrying mattresses and blankets to replace bedding prisoners set fire to during the siege.

Authorities have promised to restore electricity and water supplies once prisoners move from a block they have occupied, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai told the agency.

"There has been breakthrough in the talks," he said. "The prisoners have promised Mr. Mojadidi to evacuate the wing they had occupied. So we have optimism that this will happen today and I think we are nearing a peaceful end."

During the siege, prisoners occupied a block housing about 70 women inmates and their children, raising concerns for their safety. Officials said on Monday no hostages were being held and male and female prisoners were back in their respective blocks.

Officials said inmates did not appear to have guns but did have makeshift weapons made from broken furniture.

Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which has been involved in talks with the prisoners, said Taliban suspects, about 200 of whom were being held without trial, were demanding to be tried or freed.

Prisoners have also demanded an end to a new rule requiring them to wear uniforms and the removal of cell bars.

Corruption and inefficiency in Afghanistan's war-shattered legal system means suspects are often held without trial for years, especially if they lack resources or influential patrons as is the case for many militant suspects.

On Monday, Mojadidi said the prisoners had agreed to allow treatment of the wounded and preparations for the burial of any dead. Referring to the prisoners' demands, he said "some of them were logical, some minor and some important".

Nadery said ringleaders included Timoor Shah, head of a gang that kidnapped an Italian aid worker last year and police named the Taliban commanders as Mullah Mujadid and Mullah Shahidzai.

While the Italian aid worker was free unharmed, Timoor Shah faces a death sentence for murdering an Afghan businessman.

Officials initially said Al-Qaeda suspects were among the ringleaders, but later said the militants were mostly Taliban.

The 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.

Officials say the riot erupted after authorities issued uniforms to prisoners to prevent a repeat of an escape last month by seven Taliban who mingled with visitors.

In December 2004, four policemen and four inmates died in a siege at the jail when militants attempted a breakout.

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 13:07 IST