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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Afghan exodus gathers pace
A Pakistan paramilitary trooper turns back refugees
Thousands of people are pouring out of Afghanistan amid fears of US strikes, defying border closures and threatening to overwhelm the aid effort to support them.

Bin Laden: Wanted "dead or alive" by President Bush
The exodus continued as Afghanistan's ruling Taleban put off making a decision on whether to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

Pakistani leaders have warned the Taleban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, that unless he surrenders Bin Laden, a prime suspect in the destruction a week ago of the World Trade Center in New York, he risks a devastating US strike.

An influx of 2.5m refugees is already overburdening aid workers
Aid officials are preparing themselves for the influx of refugees, moving tents, food supplies and staff to border areas.

But they are already overburdened with 2.5 million Afghan refugees, victims of civil war and drought.

Pakistan closed its borders on Monday as tens of thousands of Afghans streamed toward the frontier.

Click here to see refugee movements

Thousands of refugees tried to cross into Pakistan at the border town of Torkham in northern Pakistan, but were turned away.

But much of the Afghan-Pakistan border lies in remote areas, and it is virtually impossible for the Pakistanis to prevent people coming in.

Thousands have already crossed near the Pakistani city of Quetta, and the UN is now moving tents and food supplies to that area.

The UN says about 4,000 people have made the journey in the past two days, and it expects another 3-4,000 a day will continue to flood in. About 5,000 refugees are on the border near Kandahar, being prevented from crossing.

A BBC correspondent in Peshawar says most of the Afghans entering Pakistan are women and children; there are reports the Taleban is refusing to allow any men to leave in case they are needed to fight.

Afghan refugees
The UN is targeting Afghanistan's internal refugees
Nevertheless, a BBC correspondent says that the roads out of the capital Kabul and Jalalabad in the east are crammed with vehicles of people fleeing to the countryside.

Kandahar - the principal city in the south and the headquarters of the Taleban - is reported by aid agencies to be half empty and Kabul a quarter empty.

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker, said: "The situation is developing very rapidly right now.

"We are therefore prioritising assistance for the internally displaced people.

"We have to scale up assistance before winters that start in November."

The Taleban have refused to hand over the exiled Saudi-born militant Bin Laden, who has been living under their protection since 1996.

The US is pointing the finger at me, but I categorically state that I have not done this

Osama Bin Laden
However there is still a possibility that the Taleban, fearing for their own regime, may hand him over.

It would be a huge climbdown, but public endorsement by the clerics might make it possible.

Pakistan has already pledged to provide the US with support and, although the government will not spell out exactly what this means, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said he could not rule out the idea of basing foreign troops in Pakistan.

As the consultations went ahead, Reuters news agency quoted a Pakistani army captain as saying the Taleban had moved a large number of weapons, including missiles, to positions near the Pakistani border.

The Afghan rulers have warned that they might attack any country that offers assistance to the United States.

Click here to return

The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The Afghan government is under the most intense international pressure"
The BBC's Sarah Nelson
"The Tajik government has softened its line on admitting asylum seekers"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
US 'planned attack on Taleban'
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN prepares for major Afghan crisis
18 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Spy satellites retasked
14 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Bin Laden's command structure
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Bin Laden divides Arab opinion
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran weighs up its options
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
17 Sep 01 | Americas
More arrests in US terror probe
16 Sep 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans fear US backlash
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
18 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair to visit US
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