Monday, July 30, 2007

Taliban questions pope's silence on civilian deaths

The Taliban questioned yesterday why the pope called for the release of 22 South Korean Christian hostages but did not speak out against civilian casualties by foreign troops.

The hardline Islamic militia also asked why Pope Benedict XVI was silent on the fate of Afghan women that it claimed were being held at US military bases in Afghanistan.

It could not be immediately confirmed if any Afghan women are being detained by US forces, leading the hunt for Taliban militants and their Al-Qaeda allies, and Ahmadi gave no details.

The South Koreans, 16 of them women, were captured on July 19 and the hardliners have threatened to start killing them unless the government agrees by noon Monday to free certain Taliban in Afghan jails.

"Why is the pope not asking and requesting and speaking out against the detention of Afghan women in Bagram and in Kandahar jails?" Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said to AFP in a telephone call from a secret location."Why is he not speaking out against civilian casualties by foreign troops? Afghanistan is invaded by foreign troops. They are bombing innocent civilians," he said.

Scores of civilians have been killed this year in international military action against the hardiners, who have also killed hundreds of ordinary people in their attacks.

The reaction came hours after the pope appealed for the hostages' lives and also condemned "the practice among armed groups to use innocent people" as bargaining chips.

Ahmadi suggested the militia may release the South Korean hostages if Afghan women being held by the US military were freed first and said the pope should push for this.

There have however been no reports of women rounded up by US forces and officials were not available late Sunday for comment.

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