Afghan Clerics Demand Public Trial For Quran Burners – AFP

Afghanistan’s top religious council Friday demanded that those responsible for the burning of Korans at a US military base should be put on public trial.

The call from the Ulema Council came just hours before a report in The Washington Post claimed that five US soldiers took part in the burnings last week, which sparked deadly protests across Afghanistan.

Citing US military officials, the Post said an investigation had established that the soldiers removed the Korans from a prison at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, after they were found to contain extremist messages.

The books were placed in an office for safekeeping, only to be mistaken for garbage and taken to a landfill where Afghan employees identified them as Korans just as the pages caught fire, according to the investigation.

However, despite the call from the Ulema Council, the military officials said that while the five soldiers would face reprimand, it was unlikely their names would be released or that they would be put on public trial, the Post reported on its website.

“For the soldiers, it will be serious — they could lose rank. But you’re not going to see the kind of public trial that some here seem to want,” one US military official was quoted as saying.

“What they did was careless, but there was no ill will,” another added.

The Ulema Council had earlier insisted “that such a devilish act is not forgivable by apologies and that the perpetrators of this crime should soon be publicly tried and punished.”

“The council strongly condemns the heinous, inhumane, barbaric act of disrespecting the Koran and other religious books by American forces in Bagram base,” a statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office said.

The council of religious scholars, which is funded by the government, issued the statement after a meeting with Karzai.

It reiterated the president’s calls for the handover of the US-run prison at Bagram to Afghan control and an end to night raids, saying “the foreigners have so far not positively responded to these righteous demands.”

Night raids, in which US-led special forces target suspected Taliban insurgent leaders, have been condemned as a violation of the privacy of Afghan women and children in their own homes.

The Koran burning incident ignited days of violent anti-US protests in which some 40 people died, plunging relations between foreign forces and their Afghan allies to an all-time low and leading US President Barack Obama to apologise.

But there have been no fresh demonstrations since Sunday, and some analysts suspect that Karzai is trying to keep the issue alive as a bargaining chip in his relations with Washington.

“I believe Hamid Karzai is using this council to pressure Americans to give in to his demands of a bigger role in peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar as well as other demands,” Afghan author and analyst Ahmad Saeedi told AFP.

Karzai was widely reported to have felt sidelined by Washington’s tentative contacts with the Taliban, who have led a 10-year insurgency against the government.

Earlier Friday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a NATO convoy in the Dand district of Kandahar province, wounding seven people including four soldiers identified by district governor Hamdullah Nazek as Americans.

The attack bore the hallmarks of Taliban insurgents, who on Monday targeted NATO troops in a suicide car bombing at an airport in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine people but no foreign soldiers.

The US-led NATO force has 130,000 troops fighting the Taliban, who were toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

But the only NATO soldiers reported killed in Afghanistan in the 10 days since the demonstrations erupted have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues, sparking calls for Western troops to pull out ahead of their deadline of 2014.

Two Americans were killed at a military outpost in Kandahar on Thursday, taking the number of Americans killed by Afghan associates to six since the outbreak of the protests.

NATO withdrew all its advisors from Afghan government ministries after two American officers were shot and killed inside the interior ministry last Saturday, apparently by an Afghan colleague.

Of the 60 NATO troops killed so far this year, 18 percent — almost one in five — have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues, including four French and an Albanian, as well as the six Americans.


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