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(New York) - A number of commanders associated with the emerging coalition of opposition forces in Afghanistan have a record of serious human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a backgrounder released today.

"The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with commanders whose record of brutality raises questions about their legitimacy inside Afghanistan," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Any country that gives assistance to the Afghan opposition must take responsibility for how this assistance is used."

Human Rights Watch urged in particular that no cooperation be extended to Abdul Rashid Dostum, the head of the Junbish militia; Haji Muhammad Muhaqqiq, a senior commander of Hizb-i Wahdat; Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the erstwhile Ittihad-i Islami; and Abdul Malik Pahlawan, a former senior Junbish commander.

Abuses that were reported from an area controlled by a United Front faction in late 1999 and early 2000 include summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. Children, including those under the age of fifteen, have been recruited by both the United Front and Taliban.

The various parties that comprise the United Front also amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996.

"Not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable for human rights abuses," said Jones. "The time to break this cycle of impunity is now, and the United States and its allies will have the leverage to do it."

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