|Thursday, 03-May-2001 4:51PM|
BRUSSELS, May 3 (AFP) - Three Afghan woman at European Parliament Thursday told tales of brutality, terror and death at the hands of the ruling Taliban in retribution for trying to educate their children and lead normal lives.
Covered head-to-toe in the traditional chador and identified only by pseudonym, the three met with parliament's foreign affairs and women's rights committees before holding a press conference alongside Parliament President Nicole Fontaine.
"One of my neighbors was giving English lessons in her home with some other teachers," the woman called "Latifa" recounted in Farsi through an interpreter.
"The Taliban found out. They came. They took the teachers outside and beat them in public. One of the women was beaten unconscious. This was done in front of everyone as an example. We see this on a daily basis."
She said the Taliban militia, who came to power in Kabul five years ago, patrol the streets of the capital regularly "with weapons in their hands. They stop people to make examples of them to terrorize the population.
"Recently I witnessed this scene: a car pulled up suddenly in front of a woman. It was during a Muslim holiday. They beat her on her feet with lead-weighted whips until her feet bled. It was because she was wearing white shoes, and white is the color of the Taliban flag.
"They wanted these white shoes to become red with her blood," said Latifa, who acted as spokesperson for the three women. "They do this kind of thing every day to terrorize the people."
The parliamentary invitation to the three women followed a visit to parliament in Strasbourg last month by Afghan opposition leader Ahmad Shah Masood, who was on a high-profile European tour.
Fontaine reiterated that the Taliban was "an apartheid regime, founded on discrimination," and called for an "embargo on arms sales to the Taliban and a maximum of pressure on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the regime's main supporters."
She said she would meet soon with the Saudi and Pakistani ambassadors "and I will be telling them quite clearly, in perhaps undiplomatic terms, that the support they are giving the Taliban will backfire on them, and that they must stop their support of this barbaric regime."
"All women in Europe and beyond are with them," Fontaine said of the three. "Their distress is our distress ... The fact that today all Afghan women know that we received them, listened to them, heard them and that there will be more to come, that in itself should give them hope."
Latifa said she holds clandestine classes in her home for her and neighborhood children.
"I know I am risking my life and the lives of my children." she said. "But we have had no life, no education, no existence for five years since the Taliban took over."
She said the Taliban arrange marriages and, often, when families refuse to give up their daughters "there is violence, kidnapping, often young girls commit suicide."
"What we are suffering is already worse then death," said Latifa, adding that the knowledge that they, and Masood, had been invited to the European Parliament gave the women in Afghanistan "knowledge and hope that the outside world cares."
She said there was no evidence of popular support for the Taliban in Kabul, and that reports from the provinces indicated likewise.
In Strasbourg last month, Masood claimed his rebel movement controlled 50 percent of Afghan territory, although the Taliban claims he holds sway over only 10 percent.
Following that landmark visit, the Taliban regime urged the European Union to remain neutral in the Afghan conflict, accusing the European Parliament of fanning war in the country by receiving the rebel leader.