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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 16:45 GMT
Afghan refugees stranded in no-man's land
Pyanj river
The Pyanj River marks the border with Tajikistan
The government of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan is considering a request from the UNto admit about 10,000 Afghan refugees stranded on the border between the two countries.

The refugees, who fled fighting in north-eastern Afghanistan, are marooned on marshy islands and peninsulas in the flood plain of the Pyanj River.

The border, which follows the river, is guarded by Russian troops under an agreement between Dushanbe and Moscow.

UN appeal

The Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that with winter fast approaching there was an urgent need to move the refugees to safer areas.

Most are women and children, but there are also a number of armed ex-fighters of the Northern Alliance, which is fighting Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement, who would need to be disarmed.

Map of Afghanistan and Tajikistan
The UN said the refugees, who have been stuck in no-man's land for weeks, were living a precarious existence in makeshift camps and faced constant danger from sporadic shelling, disease and flooding.

They are drinking water from the river, and some are suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid and malaria.

The food supplies they brought with them have also reportedly run out.

A UNHCR spokesman said aid agencies had been able to provide limited aid - including plastic sheeting, blankets, clothing and some food supplies - but shelling and widespread insecurity in the border area made regular deliveries extremely difficult.

The main aim, it said, was to move the refugees off the islands into proper camps.

Opposition

But there are concerns that Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet Central Asian republics, will be unable to cope with the influx. The move is also opposed by the anti-Taleban Afghan authorities.

A representative of the anti-Taleban government in Tajikistan told Asia-Plus news agency that the proposed transfer could create serious problems for Afghanistan, Tajikistan and international humanitarian agencies and that it would be better to provide help on Afghan territory.

Russian military grab
Russian troops guard the border
Mohammad Saleh Registani warned that the move could trigger an uncontrollable exodus of refugees, adding that more than 100,000 residents of Baghlan, Konduz and Takhar provinces were gathering in districts bordering on Tajikistan.

He also expressed doubt that there would be adequate humanitarian aid to support the refugees in Tajikistan, noting that the former Soviet Republic had itself just been through a civil war and was experiencing economic difficulties.

The chief of the Russian Federal Border service department in Tajikistan said recently he thought Tajikistan could cope with the refugees.

"The Tajik Ministry of Emergency Situations is preparing temporary dwellings and border checkpoints for the refugees. As far as I know, at the moment Tajikistan can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees," the Tajik Sado-i Mardum newspaper quoted Vladimir Makarov as saying.

The long-drawn-out conflict in Afghanistan has caused massive population displacements.

Around 2.6 million Afghan refugees have already fled to Pakistan and Iran.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | South Asia
Afghanistan's military stalemate
07 Dec 00 | South Asia
US and Russia unite against Taleban
12 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan refugees head for Tajikistan
06 Sep 00 | South Asia
Taleban capture key northern town
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