Afghan prison peaceful after deadly riot
Updated: 2006-02-28 09:21
Rebellious inmates at Kabul's main prison agreed Monday to halt violence, and
authorities said they restored supplies of water, electricity and food to the
prisoners after four people were killed and 38 wounded in the two-day
Soldiers of the Afghan National
Army stand guard outside the main gate of the Policharki Prison in Kabul,
Afghanistan, Monday, Feb. 27, 2006. Security forces with tanks and heavy
guns surrounded Kabul's main prison Monday, as authorities sought to
resume negotiations with rioting prisoners but warned they could use
The supplies were withheld late Sunday from the roughly 2,000 prisoners in
the facility, including women and their children, even though the violence was
blamed only on some 350 Taliban and al-Qaida detainees.
Although the agreement to stop rioting was only temporary, officials said
they were optimistic about a breakthrough in negotiations with the inmates.
"The food, water and electricity has been restored. For the time being, I am
optimistic. Everything is quiet. Let's see what happens tomorrow," said Abdul
Salaam Bakshi, chief of prisons in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of police and soldiers circled the sprawling Policharki jail on the
outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul, in tanks and with other heavy weapons
Gunfire rang out from inside the facility until late Monday, when news broke
of progress in the talks. Within hours, truckloads of police withdrew. Many
remaining soldiers lounged on the ground, sipping tea and smoking cigarettes as
the tension eased.
The prisoners are believed armed with small knives and clubs fashioned from
wrecked furniture, but do not have guns.
Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the chief government negotiator, said the prisoners
told him that "they would not launch any more attacks right now." He declined to
"I promised them I would do my best to solve their problems, and they trust
me," he told reporters outside the prison.
Mujaddedi said the negotiators reached an agreement with the prisoners for
the wounded inmates to be taken to a hospital, but it was not clear when this
would happen. He also said prison authorities were asked to help bury the dead
inmates, but did not elaborate further.
During the talks, the prisoners made a range of demands, including an amnesty
for an unspecified number of inmates, Mujaddedi said.
A purported spokesman for the prisoners called The Associated Press and
demanded new trials for the inmates, claiming many were innocent or their
sentences were too long.
"Two-thirds of the prisoners here are innocent. The courts were unfair," said
the man, who identified himself only by the name Maqsodi and said he was calling
from inside one of the seized prison blocks. It was not possible immediately to
confirm the man's identity.
Feruza Kahiastani, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights
Commission, told AP after meeting the prisoners that she was also optimistic of
a breakthrough, but warned "it could take a long time."
Bakshi said no deadline had been set for a deal to be reached.
Mohammed Qasim Hashimzai, the deputy justice minister, said before Monday's
negotiations started that he wanted to end the standoff peacefully, but warned
that the government could use force.
"We can take all these prisoners in one hour," he said. "But to prevent
bloodshed we are trying to negotiate."
Kahiastani said reports that some of the 70 female inmates had been kidnapped
was wrong. She said a number of women prisoners had willingly joined their male
counterparts, but later returned to their own prison block.
About 70 of the women's children also live in the block. Bakshi said none had
Violence erupted late Saturday after prisoners refused to put on new
uniforms, delivered in response to a breakout last month by seven Taliban
prisoners who had disguised themselves as visitors.
Policharki was built in the 1970s and has earned notoriety for its harsh and
crowded conditions. But the jail is under renovation ahead of the expected
arrival of some 110 Afghan terror suspects later this year from the U.S.
military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Riots and breakouts have cast doubts over its readiness.
In December 2004, four inmates and four guards died during a 10-hour standoff
that started when some al-Qaida militants used razors to wrest guns from guards
and then tried to break out. Afghan troops stormed the prison and fired guns and
rocket-propelled grenades to retake control.