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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Refugees force their way into Pakistan
Pakistani border guards watch Afghan refugees at the Chaman border crossing
Pakistani guards are patrolling the Chaman crossing
About 700 Afghan refugees have fought their way into Pakistan, wrestling border police, hurling stones and tearing down barbed wire fences.

A photographer for the French news agency AFP said he saw border guards near Chaman in south-eastern Afghanistan beating more than 250 refugees back.

The United Nations has been rushing food and tents to Afghan refugees stranded on the border, as fears spread that the humanitarian crisis will intensify once winter arrives.

Afghan refugees
Only those with ID cards have been allowed to cross
Tension had been rising at the Chaman crossing, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Quetta, as Pakistani guards only allowed those with identity papers or able to pay bribes to pass.

The crossing lies on the important route between Quetta and the Afghan town of Kandahar, which has been heavily targeted in US-led air strikes.

Pakistani officials say 10,000 to 15,000 people are caught at the border at Chaman after a sudden surge of refugees.

Pakistan has so far refused to open the border, forcing refugees to wait in a 200-metre strip of no-man's-land between the two countries.

Click here for map of the refugee situation

Fatoumata Kaba, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said 100 tents and food had been delivered to the area and would be distributed to refugees.

But she did not think Pakistan would give in to appeals to immediately open the borders to let the refugees through.

"I don't think this is going to happen today or tomorrow, it might take a major event inside Afghanistan before that happens, but I'm not sure what that might be," Ms Kaba said.

In scuffles at the Chaman crossing on Sunday, Pakistani border guards fired shots at hundreds of Afghans demanding to enter the country.

Reports said five people were injured, including a 13-year-old boy.

The guards then opened the border for a short while to ease the pressure on the Afghanistan side.

UN sends more food

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been granted permission to cross the border into the no-man's-land in Chaman to deliver food and supplies.

WFP spokesman Francisco Luna said that a delivery would be made on Monday of some 20 tonnes of biscuits, flour, food oil and other supplies.

The food should last about 5,000 refugees for five days.

Mr Luna said the WFP had enough food stored in Pakistan's border cities of Peshawar and Quetta to cover the foreseeable basic needs of 300,000 people.

Looming crisis

The US is taking military action against the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan for harbouring Osama Bin Laden, chief suspect for the 11 September terror attacks on New York and Washington.

But the UN has warned that as many as 1.5 million people may be displaced if the military action continues, with as many as 300,000 Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan this year alone.

"We are concerned that thousands of people are approaching the border," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler.

"We haven't seen a refugee flood yet but all the ingredients are there," he said.

Even before the American strikes, Pakistan was sheltering about two million Afghans who had fled after years of civil war and drought.

Grim future

Pakistani officials say 50,000 Afghans have crossed into Pakistan since the crisis began. But even inside Pakistan, the refugees face a grim future.

The Pakistani Government only allows new refugee camps to be built in the border area, a remote and inhospitable region.

The area also lacks much basic infrastructure making it harder to supply essentials such as water, a situation exacerbated by the region-wide drought.

Aid agencies said their work is often hampered by attacks on their staff in an area that is notoriously insecure.

However, the Taleban have ended their occupation of a UN office in northern Afghanistan after their supreme leader issued a decree ordering the return of looted assets of international aid agencies.

A UN official in the Pakistani capital Islamabad confirmed that the Taleban had withdrawn from the office in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif and described it as a "step in the right direction".

The Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has also ordered that UN facilities in Afghanistan should be given protection.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Keane in Quetta
"Pakistan is in a difficult position"
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Many who want to flee can't get out"
Oxfam's Jo Marie Griesgraber
"Winter in Afghanistan is cold enough to freeze battery acid"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan refugees' plight
21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Chaman's queue of despair
21 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
A refugee's ordeal
21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan counts cost of war
21 Oct 01 | Media reports
Taleban radio warns of US 'poison' rations
19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Short clashes with aid agencies
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