UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
PAKISTAN: Refugees worried about dumping of bodies
ISLAMABAD, 10 June 2003 (IRIN) - Refugees living on Pakistan's southwestern border have expressed concern over their safety following the dumping in their vicinity of the bodies of about 20 individuals killed in recent fighting. The bodies were of suspected Taliban fighters killed during a battle with Afghan government troops in the Spin Buldak area of southeastern Afghanistan on 4 June. The international media reported that up to 40 suspected Taliban fighters and nine Afghan soldiers had been killed in the battle.
"Refugees in the waiting area had already expressed concern over security in the past, and this incident highlights this and doesn't improve the atmosphere," a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jack Redden, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
The bodies were dumped by the Afghan local authorities near the Chaman waiting area for refugees on the border with Pakistan, where 18,600 Afghans are waiting to be relocated from the site, set to close by mid-July.
They have been given the option of moving to the Zarey Dasht camp in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan or the Mohammad Khel camp near the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.
The waiting area was established after thousands of Afghans fled when the US-led bombing against terrorism started in Afghanistan in October 2001. It was set up as a staging post for such Afghan refugees seeking to be moved to camps inside Pakistan, but many ended up staying at the site.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani authorities have contacted their Afghan counterparts on the matter. "We've made our point clear with the Afghan authorities and had discussions with them and we have agreed to coordinate better in the future," Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Masood Khan, told IRIN in Islamabad. "We have very close relations with Afghanistan and I don't think there was any intended message from this act," he added.
According to Khan, all the bodies have been claimed by relatives on both sides of the border - 14 by Afghans and six by Pakistanis.
Rahmatullah Musa Ghazi, the minister counsellor and charge d'affaires at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, told IRIN that the Pakistani government had not protested over the incident, but had raised a "demarche", meaning that the issue had been raised in talks between Afghan diplomats and Pakistani foreign ministry officials.
Ghazi denied a Reuters report claiming that Pakistan had protested. "We discussed the issue with the Pakistani authorities on Tuesday, and they agreed with us in saying that the report was not right, and there was no protest," he said.
Ghazi called for a bilateral investigation of the incident, noting that neither side was aware of the identities of those who had dumped the bodies. "Nobody knows exactly who did this, but I suspect independent commanders or other individuals not related to our government might have done it," he said.
Asked whether the Taliban had regrouped in Pakistan and were launching cross-border operations, he maintained that as he had no concrete proof he was unable to comment.
Ghazi backed UNHCR's effort to relocating the Chaman refugees to Zarey Dasht and camps inside Pakistan. "Refugees need to be looked after properly. This will put an end to suspicion, because the border is a sensitive area," he said. "We want friendly, fraternal ties with Pakistan, and I am confident that these will materialise in near future," he added.
Themes: (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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