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Afghanistan: Taliban Denies Political Arrests; Military Standoff Continues

Kabul, 3 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic rulers today denied that they have been rounding up members of the ousted government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul.

The Taliban's provisional minister of information and culture, Amir Khan Mutaqi, is quoted by the official Bakhtar news agency as saying that there have been no arrests in Kabul for political reasons.

Mutaqi said the Islamic militia is only interrogating about 70 people who he said had looted property "in the Taliban's name." He said those people would be put on trial on the basis of Islamic Sharia law.

Amnesty International yesterday accused the Taliban of seizing up to 1,000 prisoners in house-to-house searches. Calling the Taliban occupation of Kabul a "reign of terror," the London-based human rights group said hundreds of young men were at risk of being tortured or put to death.

Meanwhile, the Taliban newspaper "Shariat" published a decree by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar today which forbids residents of Kabul from leaving the city. Omar assured the security of any refugees returning to the capital.

The order is the latest in a growing list of restrictions and requirements under the Taliban's strict form of Islamic law. The decree also renewed calls for the world to recognize the Taliban government and to withdraw the accreditation of all former diplomatic missions.

Maulavi Abdul Wahab, a newly-appointed Taliban diplomat at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, said he met U.S. diplomats for about one hour yesterday in what he called a "positive" and "friendly atmosphere".

The Taliban says it expects to negotiate this week with ex-communist Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam. No fighting has been reported between the Taliban and the powerful northern Afghan warlord, though forces from both sides have been at a standoff for two days at the strategic Salang Highway Tunnel in the mountains north of Kabul.

Meanwhile, Taliban militia and forces loyal to Rabanni are reported to be only a few kilometers apart in the Panjshir Valley in the northwest.