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Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Fleeing Afghans urged home
Refugees at Chaman
Afghan refugees mass at the Pakistani border
Taleban leader Mullah Omar has urged tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing their homes to return.


All those who have been displaced internally or externally are instructed to return to their original place of residence

Mullah Mohammad Omar
He said the threat of military strikes by the United States had receded and added that, if the Americans did attack, civilians would be spared.

Aid agencies say that up to 20,000 refugees are massed on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

But Pakistan says no new refugees may cross its border unless there is a "humanitarian crisis".

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Bush administration had ruled out any single co-ordinated assault against international terrorism, following the attacks on New York and Washington.

The Americans are demanding that Bin Laden - chief suspect behind the attacks - be handed over, but the ruling Taleban have refused.

Bin Laden is thought to be hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taleban.

In other developments:

  • Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei launches a bitter attack on the US, saying Iran will play no part in an attack on Afghanistan
  • Spanish police arrest six suspects in connection with the attacks on America
  • Thousands of people hold an anti-US demonstration in the Afghan capital, Kabul, setting fire to parts of the former US embassy
  • Tens of thousands rally in the Pakistani city of Karachi in the country's first pro-US demonstration since the attacks
  • UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urges Afghanistan's neighbours to open their borders to allow in desperate refugees - but Pakistan refuses
  • The US House of Representatives approves a $340bn defence-spending bill for next year, with a $6bn budget for anti-terrorism programmes
  • Pakistan warns against imposing a government on Afghanistan if the Taleban regime were to fall.

The US has been briefing Nato allies on its plans at briefings in Brussels.

US Deputy Defence Minister Paul Wolfowitz sketched out the broad thrust of the military and diplomatic war Washington has declared against terrorism, but made no specific demands of member states.

The one-day meeting of defence ministers, also attended by Russia's Sergei Ivanov, reaffirmed its support for the US, which blames Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden for the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Click here for map of Afghanistan

Pakistan's Refugee Minister Abbas Sarfaraz made it clear on Wednesday that Pakistan would open the border if there was what he called a " humanitarian crisis".

New camps

Officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan are surveying 75 possible refugee camp sites in the North West Frontier province and the tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Refugee with children in wheelbarrow
Refugees will use any transport - even a wheelbarrow
And the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has announced plans to resume deliveries of food aid into Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Refugees in Pakistan report chaos in Kabul as people rush to escape the expected attacks.

Thousands are also fleeing other areas they believe might be a US target, such as the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar in the south.

UN agencies are having difficulty finding out what is happening in Afghanistan because their international staff have left the country and the Taleban have banned the use of radios by the agencies' local staff.

Border stays closed

There are an estimated 3.5 million Afghan refugees already living in Iran and Pakistan and at least a million more displaced inside Afghanistan.

Conditions at the camps are poor
Conditions at the camps are poor
Under the worst conditions, the number of people inside Afghanistan requiring UN aid could rise to 7.5 million, according to Ross Mountain, the UN head of humanitarian co-ordination.

The UNHCR hopes to have the first new refugee camp up and running within 10 days.

The United Nations is planning an international appeal to raise funds for the refugees and officials say it will be one of the largest appeals in the organisation's history.

Mr Annan said the international community should send "swift and generous help" to ensure that the thousands of Afghan refugees do not overburden neighbouring states.


Map

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Brookes reports from Pakistan
"A crisis of stunning proportions"
The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
"Afghans have been coming here for over twenty years"
Pakistan Finance Minister Shauket Aziz
speaks to the BBC about the crisis
See also:

11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
22 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of refugee flood
24 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban retreat in heavy fighting
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
26 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghans place hopes in UN
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