By David Brunnstrom
KABUL, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Afghan police have found mass graves of hundreds of communist troops killed after surrendering to mujahideen forces in the 1980s, a crime in which at least two election candidates are implicated, officials said on Thursday.
The graves were discovered about three weeks ago in Saraqala, a remote part of the southeastern province of Paktika, said a provincial police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It’s believed that these people were killed in 1989,” he said. “There was a government brigade that went missing and they captured them. There are at least 300-500 people — we have counted from their belts, uniforms, boots and bones.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanikzai confirmed that mass graves had been discovered and said a team had been sent by the ministry in Kabul to investigate.
“These were army soldiers of the Najibullah regime who surrendered to the mujahideen and then they were killed,” he said referring to the Soviet-backed president executed by the Taliban in 1996.
He said there were reports that up to 550 bodies were in the graves.
Mujahideen (Muslim holy warrior) forces overthrew the Soviet-backed government in 1992. The Taliban grew out of these forces and took power in 1996 only to be overthrown by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
Stanikzai said he did not know if there were plans to prosecute those connected to the massacre. “The government has sent an investigation team and then the government will decide,” he said.
Ahmad Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said it had also sent a team to investigate after reports from local that two mujahideen commanders linked to the massacre were candidates in Sept. 18 legislative elections.
Information about the graves came to light five days before the elections after complaints by local elders about their candidacies, he said.
The graves are not the first to be found in Afghanistan from the country’s long and brutal civil war.
In 2002, graves holding the bodies of hundreds of Taliban fighters captured by the forces of former communist warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum were found in the far north of the country. Dostum is now an adviser to Western-backed President Hamid Karzai.
Nadery said the discovery of the new graves showed the need for better vetting of election candidates and the need to provide justice for victims of war crimes.
The presence on the poll lists of factional leaders and former communist officials blamed for such crimes has been cited by some analysts as a reason for the relatively low turnout this year compared with last year’s presidential elections.
(Additional reporting by Kamal Sadat and Yousuf Azimy)
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