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Afghan Refugees Turned Back

September 13, 2000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Tajikistan has turned back 5,000 Afghans seeking to cross the river border and escape fighting in their homeland, the Afghan opposition said Wednesday.

But in Tajikistan, the government said there was no buildup of refugees along the Pyandzh River, which marks the frontier.

An estimated 150,000 civilians in northeast Afghanistan have fled their homes following an offensive against opposition forces by the ruling Taliban, according the aid groups. Last week, the Taliban captured the city of Taloqan, one of the last major strongholds of the opposition alliance.

Most have sought temporary shelter in mountain villages and towns inside Afghanistan. But about 5,000, most of them ethnic Tajiks, have reached a border crossing along the river, according to an Afghan opposition official.

``There is no food, medicine or blankets for these people and it has become quite cold at night,″ Mohammed Abil, a spokesman for the opposition alliance, said by telephone from northeastern Afghanistan.

However, Tajik authorities are reluctant to take on a new wave of refugees, whose numbers are expected to grow, and have kept the border closed, he said.

In Tajikistan, the country’s deputy head of border protection, Safarali Saifulayev, and the commander of the Russian Border Guards, Sergei Zhilkin, said refugees had not approached the border.

Taliban and opposition forces clashed again Tuesday in areas outside Taloqan, but neither side made any gains, Abil said.

Tens of thousands of civilians have left Taloqan, with many heading toward the Tajik border, less than 30 miles to the north.

Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics, is still recovering from its own civil war in 1992-97. It hosts 25,000 Russian troops whose primary job is to guard the volatile border with Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who have enforced harsh Islamic rule since seizing power four years ago, control more than 90 percent of Afghanistan. The opposition, led by ethnic Tajiks, holds dwindling pockets in the northeast.

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