Deposed Afghan President Warns of Refugee Crisis Amid Fighting
Deposed Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani warned Saturday of a catastrophe facing 200,000 refugees in the northeast of Afghanistan, as fighting between rival factions in the region continued.
Rabbani spoke at a meeting with the Tajik government during a stopover in Dushanbe, said Ibraguim Khikmat, the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan.
The warning came as Russian guards patrolling the Tajik border with Afghanistan were reinforced because of a surge in fighting over the border.
Rabbani warned that refugees fleeing the latest push by the Taliban forces in northeast Afghanistan were experiencing "very difficult" conditions with the approach of winter, said Khikmat.
"If urgent humanitarian aid is not organized, we fear a catastrophe," said Khikmat.
Rabbani had stressed that no military solution was possible for the Afghan crisis, and that a political settlement had to be reached, Khikmat added.
Earlier this month, he called for the creation of a new, "broad-based" government in his country, backed by the United Nations, in a speech to the UN Millennium Summit in New York.
Rabbani's administration now controls only a small area of northeast Afghanistan, but it is still recognized by many countries and the UN.
Four shells landed in Tajik territory during fighting Friday between the rival Afghan forces over the border, the officer commanding Russian border guards patrolling the frontier reported Saturday.
He had put his forces on alert, reinforced them and issued them with artillery weapons after the incident, said General Sergei Jilin.
The border's guards were able to watch the fighting between the Islamic Taliban militia and opposition forces of Ahmad Shah Masood, five to 10 kilometers (three to six miles) away over the border, he added.
The forces fighting under Masood, who was defense minister under Rabbani, are loyal to the deposed president. Artillery and tanks were used during the battle.
The Taliban, which controls about 90 percent of Afghanistan, pushed Masood loyalists completely out from the northern province of Kunduz by overrunning the districts of Dasht-i-Archi and Imam Saheb.
But a Masood spokesman denied Taliban claims they had also captured the Ai Khanum supply base and crossing point on the main Oxus river north of Takhar province, severing an opposition supply route from Tajikistan.
They also claimed to have captured two key positions in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz on Friday, severing a key supply route for Masood's forces, a claim denied by a spokesman for Masood.
The 1,500-kilometre border between the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan and Afghanistan is patrolled by mainly Russian guards under an agreement between Moscow and Dushanbe -- DUSHANBE(AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)