Taliban seize U.N. refugee office in Afghan town

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Associated Press WriterQUETTA, Pakistan (AP) -- Taliban officials took control of a U.N. refugee office in an Afghan town near the Pakistan border Wednesday, a U.N. spokesman said.

Several armed Taliban soldiers seized the field office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Spinboldak, about 15 miles inside Afghanistan, according to Yusuf Hassan, a U.N. spokesman in Quetta.

None of the UNHCR staff was present at the time, he said.

"By doing this, the Taliban have violated their promise that they would protect operations of the aid organizations," Hassan added.

There was no comment from the Taliban, whose relations with the United Nations have soured in recent months. Hassan said the United Nations would take up the issue with the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

International relief organizations withdrew their foreign staff from Afghanistan last month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. They left their operations in the hands of Afghan staff.

In recent weeks, however, the Taliban have raided offices of several international aid organizations and ordered Afghan employees to cease contacts with the groups' headquarters.

Also on Wednesday, Pakistani authorities erected a sign at the Kili Faizo camp near the border town of Chaman announcing that Pakistan would not accept any new refugees, Hassan said.

The signboard -- written in Urdu, Pashtu and English -- says there won't be any registration of new refugees because the camp is full, he said.

"We are concerned with this development and plan to take up the issue with the Pakistani government," he said.

More than 1,800 Afghans are living in the camp.

The United Nations has been pressing Pakistan to open its border to new refugees who are trying to flee the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan. The attacks started on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect of the Sept. 11 strikes.

Aziz Ahmed Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, said his country's borders with Afghanistan would remain closed. "We don't have the capacity to absorb new refugees," he told a briefing in Islamabad.

Pakistan says the international aid organizations should try to help Afghans in their own country and not in Pakistan, where already more than 3 million refugees live.

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