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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Al-Qaeda 'seeks new escape routes'
Russian soldiers man the Tajik-Afghan border
Russian troops play a key role on the Tajik border
Al-Qaeda fighters are reported to be looking for new routes out of Afghanistan to escape American forces.

The al-Qaeda fighters have nowhere else to go

Russian border guard chief
Officials in Tajikistan say several groups of al-Qaeda members have been seen approaching their mountainous border.

A Tajik official said the number of border guards, who include Russian soldiers, had been doubled.

The border, winding across remote terrain, is difficult to secure and is a well-known route for trafficking drugs and arms.

Since the collapse of the Taleban there have been frequent reports of al-Qaeda fighters fleeing into Pakistan.

A number of Pakistan soldiers and alleged al-Qaeda members have been killed in recent confrontations.

Looking for shelter

"Several groups of al-Qaeda are now massed in Afghanistan's Badakhshan region," the deputy head of Tajikistan's border guards, Nuralisho Nazarov, told Reuters news agency.

"We do not rule out the possibility that al-Qaeda members may make attempts to enter Tajikistan with the aim of finding shelter here."

Other reports say groups of al-Qaeda fighters have been seen about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Tajik border.

The senior Russian border officer, Major-General Sergei Zhilkin, said al-Qaeda was running out of options as the American campaign continued.

"The al-Qaeda fighters have nowhere else to go," the Associated Press news agency quotes him as saying.

The border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is some 1,300 kilometres (815 miles) long.

Russia provides troops and other support to help Tajikistan guard it.

Ethnic Tajiks

The Afghan side of the border was one of the main focuses of the American bombing campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

Northern Alliance soldiers
Tajikistan gave refuge to Northern Alliance fighters
Tajikistan was always strongly opposed the Taleban and has strong links with the Northern Alliance, the most powerful faction in the current Afghan Government.

The Northern Alliance includes a large contingent of ethnic Tajiks.

The Tajik capital, Dushanbe, was an important diplomatic centre for the alliance during its years of opposition to the Taleban.

Tajikistan has experienced its own bloody civil war involving government and militant Islamic forces.

The Khizbi Tahrir movement originated in Taleban-held areas of Afghanistan.

Tajikistan refused to bow to pressure to allow across the border thousands of Afghan refugees who fled the fighting between opposition and Taleban forces.

Key stories

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See also:

13 Nov 01 | South Asia
03 Jul 02 | South Asia
19 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
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