updated 4/14/2009 7:31:53 AM ET 2009-04-14T11:31:53

Taliban gunmen executed a young couple in southern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with rifles in front of a crowd in a lawless, militant-controlled region, officials said Tuesday.

The woman, 19, and the man, 21, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed, said Ghulam Dastagir Azad, the governor of the southwestern province of Nimroz.

Riflemen in the remote district of Khash Rod shot the man and woman with AK-47s Monday during a public execution, said Sadiq Chakhansori, the chief of Nimroz' provincial council.

In remote and dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters operate what are sometimes referred to as shadow governments, where militant leaders serve as government officials and run their own police units and pseudo court systems.

The Afghan government has no access to the remote region where the two were shot and killed, said Jabar Pardeli, the provincial police chief of Nimroz.

Harsh social rules
The two fled their homes and hoped to travel to Iran, but their parents sent villagers to bring them home, Chakhansori said. Once back home, the pair was either turned over to the Taliban by their parents or the militants came and took them by force, the officials said, providing slightly varying accounts.

The conservative Taliban movement ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and put in place harsh social rules that forbade unmarried men and women to talk or meet in public. Women were not allowed out of their homes without a male relative, and girls couldn't go to school.

Taliban fighters have widened their influence the last three years and now control many remote districts in Afghanistan where there are not enough U.S., NATO or Afghan forces to establish a permanent presence.

Responding to commanders' requests for more troops, President Barack Obama recently announced that the U.S. would send 21,000 more troops to the country this summer to bolster the 38,000 U.S. forces already in the country.

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