The US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan and the Northern Alliance came under fire for ruling out an inquiry into the killing of hundreds of Taliban prisoners during a revolt in northern Afghanistan this week.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called for a probe into the suppression of the armed Taliban uprising at a prison fortress near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Amnesty International said "serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law may have been committed".
Faced with growing calls for a probe into whether a massacre had been committed by the Northern Alliance, supported by the US and Britain, the US-led coalition insisted the prisoners themselves were responsible for the slaughter.
US warplanes bombed the fortress and US and British special forces were seen fighting alongside Northern Alliance soldiers to put down the revolt at the Qala-e-Jangi fortress 10 kilometres (six miles) west of Mazar-i-Sharif from Sunday to Wednesday.
"There are a lot of disturbing reports coming out," Robinson told BBC World Service news. "If there are contraventions of standards -- prisoners or civilians -- the leaders of forces should be disqualified from a future government.
"And the worst perpetrators should be brought to justice," Robinson said, adding that a probe would be "a standard-setting exercise".
"It's a reminder to all parties that the Geneva Conventions apply and international humanitarian law applies," she added.
The Geneva Convention on rights in wartime bans all indiscriminate attacks and makes it illegal to order that there shall be no survivors.
But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw ruled out an inquiry.
"The idea that at this moment we could have a judicial inquiry into the difficult circumstances of Mazar-i-Sharif is frankly not on," Straw told BBC radio.
"The situation there was absolutely terrible, everybody accepts that, and there was this slaughter of prisoners. But this is not some easy Western circumstance. This was in the middle of a terrible situation where law and order had broken down."
Amnesty condemned Britain's stance.
"The rejection of an inquiry by the United Kingdom into what is apparently the single most bloody incident of the war ... raises questions about their commitment to the rule of law," Amnesty said in a statement.
"What can there be to fear from an inquiry except the truth and a clear message that impunity will not be tolerated?"
A spokesman for the US-led coalition also rejected Amnesty's call.
"We have to say that we can see no need for an inquiry as proposed. There is no evidence that unarmed prisoners were summarily killed," coalition spokesman Kenton Keith told a news conference in Islamabad.
"Mazar-i-Sharif was a protracted battle against armed Taliban fighters who refused to surrender.
"There is no evidence that the Northern Alliance carried out mass executions ... in Mazar-i-Sharif, Kabul, Kunduz or anywhere else."
Alliance commanders said around 450 Taliban soldiers died in the battles which followed the uprising.
The revolt began when some of the prisoners seized their captors' weapons. They were believed to include members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, and had surrendered only days earlier from the northern city of Kunduz.
Amnesty said an international investigation involving the United Nations should be considered if the US-led coalition refused to do its own.
The human rights group had earlier called for an investigation to be led by Britain, the United States and the Northern Alliance, to make urgent recommendations on how to avoid similar carnage in future.
"An urgent inquiry should look into what triggered this violent incident, including any shortcomings in the holding and processing of the prisoners, and into the proportionality of the response by United Front, US and UK forces," Amnesty said on Tuesday.
Keith, who previously said the "status" of the prisoners changed as soon as they took up arms, refused to be drawn on who ordered the air strikes against the Taliban troops in the sprawling prison compound.
"What happened at Mazar-i-Sharif was the fault of the Taliban prisoners," he said.
One Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative was killed in the uprising, the first US combat casualty of the war in Afghanistan.
Copyright © 2001 AFP