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Afghan Civilians Facing Increased Dangers - 2001-10-24


U.S. air strikes continued for an 18th day on Wednesday against Taleban positions north of Kabul near Taleban frontlines. Civilians are facing increased dangers, ranging from unexploded bombs to Taleban fighters hiding in residential areas.

U.N. de-mining officials say they have sent a team of local Afghan de-mining experts to a village near the western city of Herat where unexploded bombs have created hazards for people living in the area.

Dan Kelley who runs the mine action program in Afghanistan says the United Nations has asked the U.S. Defense Department for information about how to defuse the bombs. He says the problem of unexploded bombs is growing and more knowledge is needed about their dangers. "It is just a new generation of munitions used in Afghanistan," he said. "So our people are not trained in giving mine awareness; the Afghan civilians are not aware of what type of weapon it is. Our people that do survey work and the people who do clearance do not know how to destroy it safely."

Mr. Kelley also says as more people leave their homes, there are growing dangers they will cross unidentified minefields in Afghanistan. He also says protracted fighting within Afghanistan will create new minefields.

U.N. officials report Taleban troops moving into residential neighborhoods in some Afghan cities raising the possibility of higher civilian casualties. The Afghan Islamic Press quotes Taleban sources as saying U.S. strikes killed 52 civilians in a village near the southern city, Kandahar. There is no independent confirmation of the report.

Foreign aid workers say they have begun screening Afghan refugees who have been approved to enter a temporary refugee camp near the Pakistani town, Chaman. An estimated 15,000 Afghan refugees are believed to be waiting at the border. Pakistani and Taleban authorities have reached agreement to house many of the refugees in camps inside Afghanistan run by the Taleban. The U.N. refugee agencys Peter Kessler says the camps are a bad idea. "Every individual - and this is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration - every individual has the right to seek asylum," he said. "It would seem, at least at first glance that these camps are designed to prevent people from seeking asylum, and even to contain people inside the country."

U.N. officials say they believe as many as 70 percent of the people in the cities of Herat, Kandahar, and Jalalabad have fled their homes, although they say they do not know how many of those people are fleeing towards Afghanistans borders.

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