By Abdul Matin Sahak
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters who surrendered to Afghan forces this week in the northern province of Jawzjan may be granted amnesty despite accusations of atrocities including rape and murder, officials said.
Around 150 Islamic State fighters, including two senior commanders, gave themselves up after being driven from their strongholds in Jawzjan by the Taliban after weeks of fighting.
Thousands of civilians fled the area in the districts of Darzab and Qush Tepa and many accused Islamic State fighters of multiple atrocities, giving detailed accounts of women and young girls being taken from their families, raped and, in some cases, murdered.
However the spokesman for the Jawzjan provincial governor said the need to encourage militant fighters to surrender was likely to mean that they would not face charges.
"There is an amnesty for the Daesh group that surrendered in Darzab district," Mohammad Reza Ghafouri, spokesman for the Jawzjan provincial governor, said, referring to Islamic State.
"The group will not be presented to legal and judicial authorities because they are taking part in the peace process," he said, adding that people with complaints about individual Islamic State members were free to take the matter up with the courts.
Government officials said it was the first time such large numbers of Islamic State fighters had surrendered at once. Several women and children, all related to the fighters, had also handed themselves to Afghan authorities.
"Any adversary of the government that joins the peace process has to be given amnesty because if they are taken before the judges, other adversaries who have reached an agreement with the government will go cold on it," Ghafouri said.
While pressure has been building for peace talks between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban, the local affiliate of Islamic State, which has gained an unmatched reputation for brutality, has shown no signs of joining.
The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, also took credit for the surrender, saying they had “cleared” Jawzjan.
Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said the military had done its duty and it was now for the government to decide the next step.
"As defenders of our people and country, our job is to fight our enemy until the battle ground. Now they have surrendered...our job is done," he said.
Another official, Jawzjan security commander General Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, said any Islamic State fighter who had committed crimes against humanity would face justice and expressed scepticism about any reconciliation.
He said those fighters who surrendered to the government were Afghans, although foreign fighters believed to be in the area may have been killed or captured by the Taliban.
"I am concerned and afraid that after surrendering, these people will commit more crimes because they are completely untrustworthy," he said.
(Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi. Writing by James Mackenzie. Editing by Nick Macfie)