Afghan former communist intelligence chief faces death penalty

An Afghan former intelligence chief went on trial on Monday accused of war crimes and torture during communist rule in the 1980s, the first such trial to be held in Afghanistan after decades of warfare.

Assadullah Sarwari has been detained since 1992, when Mujahideen (holy warrior) factions overthrew a Soviet-backed communist regime.

Prosecutors said Sarwari was arrested for conspiring against Afghanistan's Islamic government and was guilty of illegal mass arrests and executions.

He served as head of intelligence when thousands of people were killed for opposing the government.

Appearing before the national security court, Sarwari said his detention was illegal and he had no connection with war crimes.

"I ... strongly reject the charges ... (and) consider them a political conspiracy," he told the court.

Sarwari was given 20 days to prepare an affidavit.

Officials said he would be sentenced to death if found guilty.

After heading the intelligence network, he served as deputy prime minister and Afghanistan's ambassador to Yemen.

His trial was the first for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan where successive regimes have been accused of abuses in 25 years of war that began with a Soviet invasion in 1979.

The trial is taking place a week after President Hamid Karzai's government adopted a plan to address war crimes and other human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

It commits the government and the international community to the setting up a five-member task force by the end of of the year to draw up a plan to deal with the abuses.

The task force, to comprise nominees from Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations and three from Karzai, will have until the end of the 2007 to present its proposal.

In October, a Dutch court jailed two former police officers of Afghanistan's former communist regime for 12 and nine years after convicting them of war crimes and torture while serving with intelligence services, Reuters reports.


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