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UN Appeals for Opening Afghanistan-Pakistan Border - 2001-12-03

The United Nations refugee agency says it has appealed to Pakistan to open its border to thousands of Afghans fleeing fighting in southern Kandahar province. Meanwhile, another humanitarian agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross, says it is trying to register Taleban prisoners of war.

The United Nations refugee agency says Pakistani authorities have in recent days prevented agency workers from registering thousands of Afghans who are now massing on the border with Pakistan.

The UNHCR estimates that about 2,000 refugees a day are turning up at border stations, and others are avoiding the stations, and crossing into Pakistan through remote areas not patrolled by Pakistani soldiers.

Peter Kessler of the UNHCR says the refugees are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. "They are people who had been living in a makeshift site, many of them for weeks, a month, or more in Taleban-controlled Afghanistan," he said. "But a site where aid supplies had been running out, lawlessness had been on the increase, and they are now trying to enter Pakistan for safety."

Mr. Kessler says that, in the past days, some 7,000 people have entered a no man's land, where they are unprotected from the ravages of war and cold weather. "They are people with poor clothing, complaining of a lack of food and, of course, a lack of shelter," said Peter Kessler. "And they are having to live in below-freezing temperatures, as they try to enter Pakistan to reach safety in U.N.-run camps."

UNHCR is hoping to get permission from Pakistan to move the people through their Killi Faizo staging site to a more permanent facility, 16 kilometers from the border.

Meanwhile, another humanitarian agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross, says it is trying to protect some 400 Taleban prisoners of war by registering them as captured soldiers.

ICRC spokeswoman Macarena Aguilar says prisoner registration is important, because it helps ensure these people are accounted for and will not disappear. "Once the prisoners are registered, it is a guarantee that the ICRC has seen them, that they are under detention," she said. "It is the first step to protection that these people should not go missing."

Ms. Aguilar says the ICRC is in contact with Northern Alliance authorities about its request to visit some 80 Taleban prisoners who were involved in last week's prison uprising in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif.