Doubt thrown on war crimes inquiry

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The Independent Online

A war crimes tribunal is not likely to be set up in Afghanis-tan despite a promise by the new government, Western sources say.

The Americanled coalition would probably not object if plans for the tribunal were quietly dropped so the country could start afresh, they said.

Abdullah Abdullah, the new Foreign Minister, reiterated yesterday that a tribunal would be formed. His declaration was made 24 hours after the announcement that the Uzbek warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, considered by many to be a prime war crimes suspect, had become deputy defence minister. The general has been blamed for a number of brutal acts including the killing of Taliban prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif. He is also not averse to rough justice for his own troops, once ordering the crushing of an undisciplined soldier under a tank.

General Dostum has objected to the lack of seats awarded to his faction in the administration, and there has been increasing anxiety in the capital over reports that he has been recruiting disaffected fighters from other militias. His army is already the most powerful among the Northern Alliance forces. The offer of a ministerial position was seen as an inducement to prevent General Dostum openly opposing the government.

According to one of the Western sources, there are legal problems in investigating crimes committed during the years of war. Studies by the United Nations found a lack of witnesses and valid testimony for court proceedings.

The source said: "It is also the case that there is not much appetite for such trials. Probably everyone wants to start with a clean sheet, because of the chequered and distasteful history of most of them."