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Lovers stoned to death for adultery by Taliban court

Two lovers have been stoned to death in Afghanistan in an execution overseen by the Taliban that lasted more than an hour, elders and officials said yesterday.

The couple were allegedly tried by Taliban militants for adultery and were executed on Sunday with the help of more than 120 villagers in a field in the northern Kunduz province. The 28-year-old man was bludgeoned to death with rocks but the 23-year-old woman was eventually shot, witnesses said.

Said Mohammed Ayub, the governor of Imam Sahib district, has confirmed the killings.

A week earlier, insurgents in the west of the country whipped and shot dead a pregnant widow for adultery and in Uruzgan province in the south a woman had her ears and nose sliced off after running away from her abusive husband.

The latest killings took place in Mullah Qali village, which locals said was under the control of the insurgents.

"More than 120 residents, most of them local Taliban, gathered at the village on Sunday evening to punish a woman and a man," Haji Mohammed Naieem, a tribal elder, said.

Local people have increasingly turned to the insurgents for justice because the state alternative is slow and corrupt.

Haji Naieem said he witnessed the execution but denied that he had thrown any stones. He said the man had been married and the woman engaged.

Mr Naieem said the couple had confessed to their so-called crime.

"They were stoned for more than an hour," Mr Ayub said. "The woman was shot dead after the stoning but the man was stoned with big, heavy rocks at his head and he died."

His account was confirmed by Hamid Agha, the police chief in the neighbouring district of Dasht-e Archi.

Last year a couple who eloped without their parents' permission were hunted down and executed by firing squad in Nimroz province.

The recent spate of Taliban punishments has raised serious concerns that women's rights will suffer if President Karzai makes any political accommodation with the insurgents.

Zabiullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban, said he was not aware of the executions and would investigate.