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Fighting resumes at Afghan prison as talks fail

A spasm of violence broke a fragile truce at Kabul’s infamous Policharki  prison on Tuesday. One inmate was killed.
Afghan soldiers come out of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the eastern outskirts of Kabul
Afghan soldiers leave the Policharki prison in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. Jail riots started Saturday after inmates refused to put on new uniforms.Omar Sobhani / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A spasm of violence broke a fragile truce at Kabul’s main prison Tuesday as rioting inmates tried to push down a gate and police fired on them, killing one and wounding three, officials said.

Outside the jail, women beat the ground as their children wailed, fearful that loved ones in the facility have been killed in the three-day standoff.

“Oh, my son, are you alive?” cried 60-year-old Zubaida Gul.

At least five inmates have been killed and 41 wounded since the uprising began late Saturday. Police blame some 350 Taliban and al-Qaida detainees for inciting the riot.

The two sides agreed to a truce late Monday, but the deal collapsed 24 hours later over a demand by the authorities that the inmates move to another wing of the lockup, said Abdul Halik, a police commander in the prison.

The inmates refused, saying conditions in the new block were no better than the current one. They then tried to break down a gate leading into a courtyard where hundreds of police and soldiers have taken up positions, he said.

Security forces opened fire, killing an inmate and wounding three others until the prisoners, armed with knives and clubs, withdrew, the commander said. Dozens of police reinforcements rushed to the prison, but the fighting was over within minutes.

Range of prisoner demands
The prisoners have made a range of demands, including a general amnesty for an unspecified number of inmates and new trials for others, according to Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the chief government negotiator.

The earlier truce allowed 17 of the most seriously wounded prisoners to be rushed to a hospital, along with the bodies of the dead, said Gen. Zamarai, the army commander in charge of security at the jail.

Authorities late Sunday cut off supplies of water, electricity and food to the roughly 2,000 prisoners, including some 70 women and a handful of their children who live with them. But the supplies were restored a day later.

Dozens of relatives of the inmates came to the prison Tuesday and pleaded for news of their family members. One woman covered in an all-encompassing burqa kissed the feet of a journalist, begging him for information.

A mother’s tears, a mother's fear
“My son is innocent. We’re afraid he is dead,” said Zubaida Gul, as tears ran down her face and she beat her fists on the ground in front of a line of guards. “Please tell me how he is.” The guards did not react.

She said her son, Farid, was convicted of stealing a car from a neighbor in Kabul and had spent three years in prison.

Another 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.”

She said the international community has an obligation to improve conditions at the prison.

Site has infamous reputation
Policharki Prison was built in the 1970s and is notorious for harsh and crowded conditions.

Some of the prison blocks are being renovated ahead of the expected arrival of some 110 Afghan terrorist suspects later this year from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but there has been little work on the rest of the facility.

Authorities have threatened to storm the prison if a deal isn’t reached, though no deadline has been set.

Violence erupted late Saturday after prisoners refused to put on new uniforms, delivered in response to a breakout last month by seven Taliban prisoners who had disguised themselves as visitors.