ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The United Nations said Tuesday more than 100 Taliban fighters who attempted to take cover at a school in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif were killed by opposition fighters, and that hundreds of other people were also killed in the offensive to capture the town.
In Geneva, meanwhile, the International Red Cross said its workers were helping bury the dead.
"It is in the hundreds," said International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari. She said ICRC workers had agreed to bury the dead "for reasons of health and of dignity." They would be put in marked graves, for possibly later identification by families.
It was unclear how many of the victims were civilians and how many were Taliban fighters.
"According to reports, in Mazar there is a lot of pillaging as well as civilian kidnappings, armed men out of control and fighting in the streets," said Christiane Berthiaume, spokeswoman for the World Food Program.
"We hope it stabilizes soon," she said. She said the situation of the city was precarious, and that the 89 tons of food in U.N. warehouses had been stolen over the weekend.
The Taliban retreated from the city Friday, touching off a rout by the Northern Alliance in much of Afghanistan that was capped with its capture of the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday.
There are 250,000 people living in Mazar and some 120,000 received a month's ration of food last week.
Stephanie Bunker, U.N. spokeswoman in Islamabad, told a news conference that "we've had sources that have corroborated that over 100 Taliban troops who were young recruits who were hiding in a school were killed by Northern Alliance forces on Saturday after 6 p.m."
It was not clear whether the Taliban fighters were killed while fighting the Northern Alliance troops, or if they were captured and executed.
However, the Taliban retreat took place during the day Friday, and according to Bunker's account, the troops were killed more than 24 hours later, suggesting they did not die in battle.
Bunker did not give additional details. However, the United Nations does have Afghan staffers in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Northern Alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah, denied reports that opposition fighters had massacred Taliban in areas the alliance captured in its five-day sweep.
Rumors of a mass killing in Mazar-e-Sharif have circulated for the past few days, but there was no independent confirmation.
"Overall, the security situation in Mazar remains somewhat unstable," Bunker said. "As of this morning we heard reports that along with occasional looting, there is also `punitive action' that is being carried out."
"We have also heard that fighting is continuing in and around the city," she added.
Separately, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it was worried about the fate of 6,000 Afghan civilians in a Taliban-occupied camp for displaced people in southwestern Afghanistan near the Iranian border.
A UNHCR statement said that the agency was "extremely fearful" that the civilians would be used as hostages or human shields by the armed Taliban fighters who were reportedly mixed in with the displaced population.
Northern Alliance forces have reportedly surrounded the camp at Makaki. UNHCR staff described the situation in the area as "volatile."
UNHCR workers have refused to go to the camp because of the Taliban military presence and reported heavy weaponry there. It has similar fears about other displaced people's camps controlled by the Taliban, including one at Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border crossing of Chaman.
A statement said there were unconfirmed reports that 3,000 refugees had fled Afghanistan on Tuesday into the town of Dendab in northwest Pakistan.
At the same time, refugees were streaming back from Iran into Afghanistan — 2,649 since Saturday — the agency said.
Notari said the Red Cross, which has 1,000 local workers throughout Afghanistan, had only sketchy reports of the situation in other cities. A veteran ICRC delegate, Alberto Cairo, had returned to Kabul on Tuesday to assess the situation and the needs of the population, she said.
"At such a moment of transition of power, it is extremely critical that those who lead the warring factions do everything they can do ensure discipline, order and protection of wounded, prisoners and civilian population," she said.