A siege at Afghanistan's biggest prison entered a fourth day yesterday but the government expressed hope for a peaceful resolution to a bloody revolt by hundreds of inmates.
Four prisoners have been killed and 38 wounded since more than 1,000 inmates led by Taliban commanders and a kidnap gang leader took over parts of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison near Kabul on Saturday night, prisoners told a human-rights lawyer.
Seventeen inmates wounded during the were rushed to hospital along with the bodies of four who were killed, after the prisoners agreed to halt two-days of rioting, officials said yesterday.
The number of troops backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers that have surrounded the jail on Kabul's eastern outskirts appeared to have declined from hundreds to dozens yesterday.
The Afghan army commander in charge of security at the jail said there had been no violence since late on Monday.
"Everything is completely calm," said General Zamarai, who uses only one name. "I was even talking and joking with some of the prisoners this morning."
The prisoners still control the main wings of the sprawling jail, but they have stopped trying to break out from their cellblocks into the surrounding grounds where police and soldiers have taken up positions, he said.
Authorities sent food to the prisoners on Monday after negotiations led by Sibghatullah Mojadidi, a former president who heads a state-appointed peace commission trying to encourage Taliban insurgents to lay down their arms.
Trucks brought mattresses and blankets yesterday to replace bedding prisoners burned during the siege.
Authorities have promised to restore electricity and water supplies once prisoners move from a block they have occupied, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammed Qasim Hashimzai said.
"There has been a breakthrough in the talks. The prisoners have promised Mr. Mojadidi to evacuate the wing they had occupied.
So we have optimism that this will happen today and I think we are nearing a peaceful end," he said.
During the siege, prisoners occupied a block housing about 70 women inmates and their children, raising concerns for their safety. Officials said on Monday no hostages were being held and male and female prisoners were back in their respective blocks.
They said inmates did not appear to have guns but did have makeshift weapons made from broken furniture.
Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said Taliban suspects, about 200 of whom were being held without trial, had demanded to be tried or freed. He said the Taliban suspects included some Pakistanis.
Nadery said the demand for trials was legitimate and showed the need for the US-backed government to formulate legislation to deal with Taliban suspects caught in combat.
"It doesn't have the authority to keep people so long without trial even if they are called `enemies of Afghanistan,'" he said.
Outside the jail, dozens of relatives of inmates pleaded with guards for news. Some women beat the ground as their children wailed, fearful that their loved ones may be among those killed.
One woman said she was afraid for her brother, Abdul Baseer, a convicted murderer, because conditions in the prison were terrible.
"This is not a jail, it's a cemetery," said the woman, who gave her name only as Mariam. "No one has any rights once they've gone inside. I doubt I will ever see him again."