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Afghanistan: Record number of detainees visited

04-12-1997 News Release 97/38

During the first nine months of 1997, the ICRC visited 7,826 detainees in 74  detention centres in Afghanistan. These figures show a sharp rise over those recorded for the whole of the previous year (2,700 prisoners), pointing to the continuation of a conflict which, this year too, has seen large-scale military offensives in the northern part of the country.

The ICRC currently has access to detainees in prisons under the control of all parties to the conflict, whether they belong to the Taliban movement or to the Northern Coalition (the Jamiat, Wahdat and Jumbesh forces). This freedom of action enjoyed by the ICRC, in a context marked by a strong resurgence of ethnic tension and violations of humanitarian law, was restricted between June and September following the clashes around Mazar-i-Sharif. During that period, the ICRC provided medical treatment for - and ensured the survival of - hundreds of wounded Taliban combatants who had been taken prisoner. But it was unable to gain access to all the persons captured by the Jumbesh forces of General Malik Pahlawan. This state of affairs was denounced in a press release issued on 11  August. From 25  October onwards, however, ICRC delegates were authorized by the new Jumbesh authorities of Mazar-i-Sharif to resume their visits to the detention centres of the region. They were also able to supervise several release operations (41 Taliban freed last week from Mazar-i-Sharif prison, 17 others transferred by plane from Mazar-i-Sharif to Jalalabad on 1  December, and 51  prisoners released in the Panjshir region on 2 December by Commander Massoud).

Detention conditions in Afghanistan have led the ICRC to increase its assistance to prisoners. Work to put wells back into service and improve hygiene in prisons has been undertaken on a broad scale. Clothing, shoes, mattresses, blankets, soap and cooking utensils are distributed regularly to people in prison. In addition, the ICRC is supplying wool to several hundred of the country's 14,000 war widows whose essential needs it is meeting; this enables them to produce knitwear for the detainees and thus earn a small income.