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Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 5 News List

Dissidents fill up Taliban prisons

AFP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

The Taliban are filling their jails with political prisoners as they round up anyone suspected of favoring their downfall, according to a French journalist released from the Islamic militia's custody at the weekend.

Paris Match reporter Michel Peyrard, who was detained on Oct. 9 with two Pakistani journalists, was released on Saturday and handed over to Pakistani and French officials at the Torkham crossing point.

Held for 25 days in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, Peyrard was able to interview numerous fellow detainees and build a unique body of eyewitness testimony on the security situation there.

Peyrard, who was arrested after sneaking into Afghanistan dressed in a burqa -- the traditional head-to-toe garment worn by Afghan women in public -- was held in one of an estimated six detention centers in Jalalabad.

"These centers are for political detainees whose numbers were growing all the time. There were clearly organized roundups taking place," Peyrard told reporters in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar.

"The main prison in Jalalabad is full," he said. "I think there are now around 400 prisoners, compared to 150 on September 11" -- the date of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Many, according to Peyrard, had supported the Taliban when they came to power in 1996 but were now suspected of plotting against the Islamic militia.

"Anyone suspected of putting forward a possible alternative [to the Taliban] has been rounded up and put in prison," he added.

Among those picked up, Peyrard noted a significant number of supporters of exiled Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar earned notoriety for his non-stop rocketing of Kabul after the collapse of the Moscow-backed regime in 1992, until he was pushed out from the mountains south of the capital by the Taliban in 1995.

The ethnic Pashtun and Sunni Muslim militant is living in exile in Iran.

Peyrard also said his Taliban captors seemed to be holding up well in the face of the US-led air strikes that began on Oct. 7 in retaliation for the Taliban's refusal to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

While many had expected heavy blanket bombing, the feeling was that, in the case of Jalalabad at least, the US strikes had been "extremely limited," he added.

The Paris Match correspondent said he had also been able to cope quite well with his time in Taliban detention.

"The first day was pretty difficult, with some rough treatment," he said.

Peyrard and the two Pakistani journalists were paraded in the main market of Jalalabad, where Arab mujahidin volunteers fighting alongside the Taliban had thrown stones and lashed out with rifle butts.

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