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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan said Tuesday this country's fledgling government was not equipped to investigate allegations a U.S. ally killed hundreds of Taliban fighters last year by letting them suffocate in sealed shipping containers.

U.N. special representative Lakhdar Brahimi also told reporters Afghan authorities did not have the capability to protect the lives of witnesses who might testify and that its chief responsibility was to the living.

``There is no judicial system that we can really expect to face up to a situation like this,'' Brahimi said. ``There is no proper police to protect people .... We will definitely do our utmost to follow this up, we certainly owe it to the people who were killed, their relatives ... but our responsibility to the living has to take precedence.''

Hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters were captured in the surrender of the northern city of Kunduz in November as the Taliban regime was crumbling across the country.

The fighters were jammed into unventilated metal shipping containers by U.S.-backed troops of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, and were to be trucked to a prison about 200 miles away at Shibergan, survivors and humanitarian organizations said.

On May 1, investigators for U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights examined a mass grave site in a nearby desert area called Dasht-e-Leili. They said hundreds of the victims had been dumped there.

A recent article in Newsweek cited a confidential U.N. investigative report which quoted a witness as saying 960 men were killed.

Last Wednesday, the government of President Hamid Karzai said it would investigate the allegations, which first began to emerge in news reports late last year.

The government ``would like to investigate but I don't think they have the capacity to do so,'' Brahimi said.

The grave site at Dasht-e-Leili had not been disturbed and was being visited regularly by U.N. officials, he said.

The U.N. mission has said its inquiry into the alleged mass killing was suspended earlier this year until a program could be devised to protect witnesses against reprisals.

``We can not take a risk putting anyone's life in danger,'' Brahimi said.