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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
Family from Kandahar, Afghanistan,enters Pakistan via Chaman crossing-point
Some reached Pakistan despite the border closure
Afghanistan's Taleban authorities have imposed a blockade on the capital Kabul to stop citizens from fleeing.

Thousands of people are trying to leave the country amid fears of US strikes, but neighbouring states are closing their borders.


The Taleban have put up road blocks to stop people from moving

UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan

Aid workers fear a humanitarian disaster as efforts to deliver food relief grind to a halt.

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

Clampdown

According to eyewitnesses, the Taleban appear to be trying to keep moveable property inside Kabul, with checkpoints around the capital stopping citizens from leaving with their possessions.

A spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees, Yusuf Hassan, said the Taleban's roadblocks at Kabul and the north-eastern city of Jalalabad were stopping the people themselves from leaving.

"It appears that significant movements of people are continuing out of Kandahar, but from Kabul and Jalalabad I gather that the Taleban have put up road blocks to stop people from moving," he said.

At the same time, shopkeepers in the capital are taking action to prevent looting.


In another development, the main supplier of food aid to Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP), said it had largely stopped moving wheat around the country and had ceased imports completely.

The WFP says it cannot obtain the transport for the wheat, although aid agencies say this is not a problem in most regions of Afghanistan.

"We have enough food stocks inside Afghanistan to last normal operations for two to three weeks," said WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume in Geneva.

"We have stopped food shipments into the country due to the lack of commercial lorries in various parts of the country to move food."

Desperation

The WFP had been feeding about three million displaced people in rural Afghanistan before the crisis began and it pulled out its foreign aid staff.

Now in the area around the western city of Herat alone, about 370 Afghan WFP workers are trying to ensure food distribution amongst 200,000 displaced people.

Pakistani riot policeman at anti-US protest in Islamabad
The issue of Afghanistan is causing unrest inside Pakistan

Afghanistan's neighbours already host several million Afghan refugees, victims of civil war and drought, and have moved to close their borders since the present crisis erupted.

Refugees massing at the Pakistani border at Chaman threw stones at frontier guards after being turned away, and some managed to force their way across.

Riaz Mohammed Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, said there were fears that "hundreds of thousands" of Afghans had left Afghan cities and were heading for Pakistan.

A BBC correspondent in the Pakistani city of Peshawar says most of the Afghans who recently entered were women and children.

There are reports the Taleban is refusing to allow any men to leave in case they are needed to fight.

The UN has called on Islamabad to re-open the border as fears mount for the refugees, with the harsh Afghan winter approaching.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Letter from Afghanistan
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN prepares for major Afghan crisis
16 Sep 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans fear US backlash
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
18 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
19 Sep 01 | Business
Afghan economy fights for survival
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