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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Tensions over Afghan refugee move
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Buildings being destroyed at Katchagarhai camp
The refugees at Kachagarhai are being forced to move
The leader of a religious alliance in north-west Pakistan has threatened protests if more Afghan refugees are moved to his native Chitral district.

Member of parliament Abdul Akbar Chitrali said resettling the Afghans would "destroy peace" in the area.

Refugees in two camps near the city of Peshawar have been asked to relocate to Chitral or Dir districts by 31 August.

Otherwise, the government says, they will have to go back to Afghanistan. The refugees oppose leaving the camps.

The Pakistani government says the camps are used by militants and drug gangs.

Accusations

People in Dir and Chitral accuse the Afghan refugees of taking over their businesses and indulging in criminal activities.

Map

"The government wants to destroy peace in Chitral, so we will fully resist this move and, if required, start a movement against this decision," Abdul Akbar Chitrali, a member of parliament from Chitral, told the BBC.

"The people and elected representatives of Chitral are unanimous that the Afghan refugees would not be allowed to settle in Chitral," he said.

Mr Chitrali belongs to the MMA - a grouping of religious parties which rules North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The group has been accusing the Pakistani government of encouraging "Talebanisation" in the province to defame the alliance and create problems for Afghanistan as well.

Last year, police caught an agent of the federal-run Intelligence Bureau (IB) while planting a bomb outside the chief minister's office in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP.

Meanwhile, political groups in Dir district also held a public meeting recently to oppose the government's decision to relocate the Afghan refugees there.

The refugees, who have been opposed to abandoning their camps, have come under increased pressure from the government which bulldozed some of their shops and houses earlier this month.

They are still reluctant to shift to Dir or Chitral, which are located in the remote Hindu Kush mountain range where winters are harsh and means of livelihood scarce.

Facilities withdrawn

"We would be willing to go to Dir or Chitral if the Pakistani government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) promise to provide us with water, electricity, hospitals and schools," says Haji Dost Mohammad, a refugee leader at the Katchagarhai refugee camp near Peshawar.

All these facilities were withdrawn by the government and the UNHCR some three years ago in anticipation that the refugees would return to Afghanistan.

In mid-May, at least 70 shops and three houses were destroyed after clashes broke out at Kachagarhai camp.

A day later, Pakistani security forces and refugees clashed at the Pir Alizai camp in Balochistan province after the authorities tried to demolish homes. At least three Afghan refugees were killed in the violence.

Katchagarhai and Pir Alizai are among four camps - home to about 300,000 people - that the Pakistani government plans to close.

They are inhabited by refugees who have fled decades of fighting in Afghanistan.

Refugees in the four camps have been given the option of re-locating to other camps in Pakistan, but analysts say that is easier said than done.

Pakistan's government has in any case said that it wants all two million or more Afghan refugees out of the country within the next three years.

A UN report released earlier this month found that most of those still in Pakistan want to stay.


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