Opposition admits to massacre of 520 soldiers

War on Terrorism: Victims
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Northern Alliance soldiers admitted yesterday they had killed hundreds of pro-Taliban fighters holed up in a school, providing the first direct evidence of massacres by the victorious opposition forces.

An ITN journalist went to the school in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif where the bodies of 520 mostly Pakistani fighters were still being brought out from the rubble yesterday – three days after the massacre.

The stand-off between the forces of the veteran Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and more than 700 fighters lasted all weekend, after the Alliance forces captured the strategic city on Friday. According to the Alliance, the fire-fights at the school intensified when the pro-Taliban fighters refused to surrender.

Andrea Catherwood, a reporter, said: "They claim they sent elders into the school to try and persuade them to give themselves up. When they wouldn't, the Northern Alliance went in with tanks."

General Dostum's forces, reputed for their brutality from their previous spells in power in Mazar, crushed the resistance. "I saw those tanks today and they demolished most of the school," Ms Catherwood said.

The Red Cross was bringing out bodies on stretchers from the ruins of the school yesterday. Reports had circulated since Monday that Pakistani fighters had been massacred after surrendering, but the British television crew was the first to confirm what happened by talking to the soldiers.

Theydid not deny having killed the 520 fighters, but refused to describe their actions as a massacre. "They are saying that they were, in fact, trying to make these men give up," Ms Catherwood said.

Human Rights Watch pointed out yesterday that it had to be established whether the Pakistani fighters were killed after surrendering or not. If they were already prisoners or had expressed their intention to surrender, this would constitute a war crime by the Northern Alliance, the organisation said.

In a further chilling move, the Alliance troops based in a building across the street from the school, displayed 42 Taliban prisoners who had been kept inside a freight container in the dark – traditionally the Alliance's detention centre of choice for Taliban prisoners.